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t)o cum 

Municipal Government 
in Ireland 

Mediaeval & Modern 




Lecturer in Municipal History, 

Univrsity College, 


Author of " Industrial Dublin since 1698'' ami 
"The Silk Industry in Dublin " 



Printed at 

ctie CAtboc pness 

89 Talbot Street 




















GOVERNMENT . . . . . 





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ACT, 1854 252 

Chapter XV. THE PUBLIC HEALTH ACT, 1874 . 257 


TOWNS 260 
















Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire 
into the Municipal Corporations in Ireland (1835 
Vols. XXVII-XXVin ; 1836, Vol. XXIV.) 

Report of Select Committee on Local Govern- 
ment and Taxation of Towns (Ireland), 1878, 
Vol. XVI. 

Special Report of Mr. W. P. O'Brien. Local Govern- 
ment Inspector on the state of Local Government 
in Ireland. 1878. Vol. XXIII. 

Final Report of Royal Commission on Local Taxa? 
tion (Ireland), 1902, Vol. XXXIX 




The importance of the town in the system 
of government established in Ireland by 
the Anglo-Normans is a matter which has 
received scant attention from historians 
of Irish affairs. The greatest empire 
builders of history, the Romans, used the 
municipality as an instrument for extending 
their sway and maintaining their power 
throughout the lands surrounding the 
Mediterranean. This was so much the 
case that at the time of its greatest power 
the Roman empire may be regarded as 
consisting of a network of municipalities. 
In Ireland a similar policy was pursued 
by the Anglo-Norman government. The 

2 Municipal Government in Ireland 

chief Irish towns in existence at the period 
of the invasion of Ireland in the reign of 
Henry II., towns situated generally ori 
the sea coast or in communication with the 
sea, fell into the hands of the Anglo-Norman 
invaders. The government of these towns 
was remodelled, the chartered borough of 
England serving as an exemplar. New 
towns were established throughout the 
tribal lands which were conquered, they 
in turn receiving a similar form of govern- 
ment. Settlers were induced to come across 
from England by the grant of various 
privileges to those who should take up their 
abode in Ireland. In this way many 
towns sprang up around the castles of 
Norman nobles throughout the land. 

The chief privilege conferred upon the 
inhabitants of Irish towns, old and new, 
was that of self-government. They were 
empowered to elect their own officers and 
councils, establish their own courts, and 
appoint their own magistrates. They were 
given the complete control of industry 
within their towns, while without they 
enjoyed important commercial privileges. 

The Chartered Borough 3 

Thus there was established in Ireland a 
system of municipal government similar 
to that obtaining in the western part of the 
continent of Europe. 

In all cases the various rights and 
privileges conferred depended upon a 
charter or charters. These charters were 
granted by English Kings or Norman 
nobles. When Henry II. parcelled out 
the greater part of Ireland amongst a few 
of his chief followers he exempted from the 
grants a number of the existing Irish 
towns with the territory adjoining them, 
retaining them in his own hands as royal 
boroughs. Dublin, Waterford, Cork and 
Limerick were amongst other towns ex- 
cluded from the grants made to his barons. 
Three of these cities trace their powers 
back to charters granted by Henry or 
his son John, who was made Lord of 
Ireland by his father. Other towns, 
especially those newly founded, received 
charters from the Norman barons, charters 
which were confirmed later by English 

From a study of the charters granted to 

4 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Irish towns we are enabled to deduce the 
main features of their constitution and 
economic system. The land upon which 
the town was built, together with a con- 
siderable stretch of the adjacent territory 
was conferred by charter upon the citizens 
or burgesses. In the royal charters the 
land was always conferred in fee farm to 
be held for ever by the citizens or burgesses 
from the king and his heirs and successors, 
subject to an annual rent. The fee farm 
rent of Dublin was fixed by King John 
at two hundred marks a year, that of 
Limerick at forty pounds a year. Over the 
territory granted the citizens had complete 
control. The precious right of self- 
government was conferred upon the citizens 
thus endowed. They were allowed to 
manage their own affairs free from inter- 
ference on the part of King or noble. 

.With regard to the constitution of the 
civic government of the newly enfranchised 
communities, it appears from the earliest 
charters that the townsmen were left free 
to set up whatever form of government 
they thought best. It is to be noted that 

The Chartered Borough 5 

whatever rights and privileges were granted 
were conferred upon the whole body of 
citizens or burgesses and not upon a select 


The earliest charters are practically 
unanimous in declaring that the chief 
office in the civic constitution should be 
held by a single individual, who was to 
be elected by his fellow citizens. In Dublin 
the chief magistrate of the city was at 
first designated " Provost," a title which 
was soon to give place to that of " Mayor." 
In a charter granted by King Henry III. 
in the year 1229 permission was granted 
to the citizens of Dublin, and their heirs, 
to elect from among themselves annually 
a loyal and discreet Mayor, proper for the 
government of the city, and who on his 
election should swear fealty to the king, 
or in his absence, to his Justiciary. The 
Mayor was to hold office for one year, at 
the expiration of which time the citizens 
were empowered to retain him in office or 
elect another citizen in his place. 

6 Municipal Government in Ireland 

The title of the chief officer underwent 
changes from time to time. The earliest 
titles were usually those of " Provost" and 
"Mayor." The borough of Drogheda versus 
Midiam had under its charter, dated 1247, 
a chief magistrate known as " Seneschal." 
The titles were evidently borrowed from 
the constitutions of the French communes 
of the period, many of which communes 
were situated in domains ruled over by 
the King of England. In later years we 
find the titles of " Portreeve " and " Sove- 
reign " in use. Whatever the title, the 
chief officer seems to have been endowed 
with a position of great power and dignity. 
As the chief representative of the town he 
was mentioned first in charters, royal 
grants and letters patent. He was the 
chief magistrate in the civic courts. He 
possessed large powers of jurisdiction over 
the citizens in the conduct of civic affairs 
and in the control of industry. If civic 
liberties were violated it was his duty to 
vindicate them. In times of danger he 
took his place at the head of the armed 
force of the town for purposes of offence 

The Chartered Borough 7 

or defence. His power, however, was not 
absolute. Elected by the votes of his 
fellow citizens, and holding office for the 
brief space of a year, it was unlikely that 
he would run counter to the wishes of the 
majority of the electorate. He was advised 
and assisted in the duties of his office by 
a body of councillors. In certain of the 
civic constitutions provision was made 
for controlling the chief officer in the 
exercise of the powers of his high office. 
In the charter of the borough of Drogheda 
versus Uriel, dated 1229, it was provided 
that two of the more lawful and discreet 
men of the borough should be elected by 
the common council of the burgesses, before 
the King's justices, when they should come 
to the town to take the assizes, to keep the 
pleas of the Crown, and to see that the 
provosts of the borough justly and lawfully 
treated as well the poor as the rich of the 
borough. A similar provision occurs in 
a charter granted by Richard II. to the 
burgesses of Dundalk. 

A charter to the burgesses of Drogheda 
versus Uriel of the year 1331 which granted 

8 Municipal Government in Ireland 

to them, in the absence ofjthe King, the 
assize of bread and beer, and the custody 
and assay of measures and weights and 
other things whatsoever to the office 
pertaining within the borough, prescribed 
that the mayor and bailiffs should be fined, 
and amerced if they neglected their duty 
in respect of these matters. 

About the year 1341 the Mayor and 
Bailiffs of Dublin were arraigned before 
the King's Justiciary for default in execut- 
ing justice within the city. They were 
acquitted, however, on pleading the King's 
pardon for all trespasses and felonies com- 
mitted before the 2ist day of August, 
1340, a date subsequent to the default for 
which they were arraigned. 


Next in point of rank and importance 
came the bailiffs, a title appearing fre- 
quently in the early charters. The office 
of bailiff was always a dual one, the title 
never being used in the singular. The 
bailiffs were important executive officers 

The Chartered Borough 9 

in judicial matters. They likewise acted 
as magistrates in the civic courts. In 
a charter granted to the burgesses of 
Youghal in the second year of Richard 
III/s reign which gave to the mayor 
and bailiffs the cognizance of all pleas, 
both personal and real, in a Court to be 
held on every Friday, it was provided 
that any one of these officers should have 
jurisdiction in the absence of the others. 
In the " Chain Book " of Dublin, under the 
heading of " Laws and usages of the City 
of Dublin " we find that the Bailiffs of the 
City intervened in the following matters : 
Refusal of owners to receive rents as 
tendered, disputes between masters and 
apprentices, claims of country people for 
repayment from persons in the city, and 
distraints on goods of villeins. In Dublin 
the bailiffs also executed the office of 

The title of bailiff continued in use for 
about four hundred years. In the time of 
James I. the title of " sheriff " was sub- 
stituted for it in the charters issued by that 
monarch. The latter title was used, how- 

io Municipal Government in Ireland 

ever, much earlier. In the year 1412 the 
title of " bailiff " was abolished in Drogheda, 
and that of " sheriff " substituted. In a 
charter granted to this town in the year 
1363 it was provided that the mayor and 
bailiffs in the guildhall (gihald) of the 
berough, should have cognizance of all 
pleas as well of tenures within the 
borough and suburbs, as of all trespasses 
and contracts happening there, and exe- 
cutions thereof, except ordinances of the 
staple. That the bailiffs shared with the 
mayor or other chief officer in the govern- 
ment of the town seems a fair inference 
from the fact that when the office was 
abolished in Drogheda on the occasion of 
the union of the two boroughs on opposite 
sides of the Boyne in the year 1412, the 
new charter stated that the united borough 
should in future be governed by one mayor 
and two sheriffs only, the names and states 
of the seneschal and bailiffs being extin- 
guished. As in the case of the mayor or 
provost, the bailiffs or sheriffs were annually 
elected by the citizens and burgesses of Irish 
cities and towns. 

The Chartered Borough n 

This charter conferred upon the mayor 
of Drogheda a certain amount of control 
over the sheriffs. It provided that the 
mayor should have jurisdiction of hearing, 
correcting, reforming, and determining in 
the hall of the Guildhall at the suit of any, 
all defects, oppressions, extortions, mis- 
prisions, ignorances, negligences and in- 
juries committed by the Sheriffs in their 
office within the county (of the Town of 
Drogheda) . 


As already mentioned, the rights and 
privileges granted by the charters were 
conferred upon the general body of citizens 
or burgesses. The charter of Prince John, 
Lord of Ireland, dated 1192, conferred the 
various rights and privileges therein men- 
tioned upon the citizens of Dublin, both 
within and without the walls. In 1228 
Henry III. granted a charter to " his good 
men of Drogheda." It is clear from the 
charters that certain important rights were 
vested in the general body of citizens or 

12 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Thus the land which was the subject of 
the original grant became the common 
property of the citizens or burgesses and 
could be disposed of only by their common 
consent. The early records of Dublin con- 
tain numerous instances of grants and 
leases made by the common consent of the 
citizens. Henry III.'s charter to his 
citizens of Waterford, dated 1232, granted 
to them all tenures within the walls and 
without to dispose thereof according to 
their will, by the common assent of the city. 
Other charters contain similar clauses. 

The power of electing the chief officer 
was likewise vested in the general body of 
citizens or burgesses. Thus the citizens 
of Limerick in a charter, dated 1291, stated 
to be for the purpose of removing any 
ambiguity as to the terms of an earlier 
charter of John, Lord of Ireland, granted 
explicitly that the citizens of Limerick 
should have power to choose a mayor of 
themselves annually for the government 
of the city. The grant of the power of 
electing the chief officer is a common 
feature of the charters. 

The Chartered Borough 13 

The most important right possessed by 
the citizens or burgesses under these char- 
ters was that of making laws and ordin- 
ances for the good government of their 
city or town. The charter of Drogheda, 
dated 1412, empowered the mayor, sheriffs, 
burgesses and commonalty to meet every 
year and make ordinances and statutes 
for the safe government of the town. A 
charter of Limerick, dated the following 
year, granted to the mayor and commonalty 
of that city the power of meeting and 
making ordinances and statutes for the 
advantage of the city. In both these 
charters, it is to be noted, the commonalty 
were empowered to take part in civic legis- 

We are afforded a clue as to the manner 
in which the citizens or burgesses exercised 
these important rights of granting public 
land, electing mayors and bailiffs, and 
making ordinances for the good govern- 
ment of the city or town by another in- 
stitution of which frequent mention is 
made in the charters, namely, the "Hundred 
Court." Every chartered town was granted 

14 Municipal Government in Ireland 

its own court. The term " Hundred 
Court " was borrowed from the English 
borough wherein that institution had 
existed from early Saxon times and had 
continued on when civic government in 
England had been transformed under 
Norman influence. In the Hundred Court 
of the English borough all the burgesses 
had the right of being present. The 
functions performed therein included the 
election of officers, the making of bye-laws^ 
and the sanctioning of grants of public 
land. From the analogy of the Hundred 
Court of the English borough we are led 
to the conclusion that the citizens and 
burgesses of Irish cities and towns exercised 
the important rights above mentioned in 
the /civic courts. 

So far we have carefully refrained from 
using the term " inhabitants " when 
describing the body in whom these powers 
were vested. Did the terms " citizens " 
and " burgesses " include all the inhabit- 
ants, or at least the adult male inhabitants 
of Irish cities and towns ? The question, 
it seems, must be answered in the negative. 

The Chartered Borough 15 

Dr. Stubbs, in dealing with the history of 
the English borough, describes for us the 
members of the Hundred Court. They were, 
he says, the owners of land, the owners of 
houses, shops or gardens ; the burgage ten- 
ants, from whose burgages the rent (that 
is, the " ferm " of the town) was originally 
due. In Ireland it would seem from the 
evidence available that the terms 
" citizens " and '" burgesses " were com- 
mensurate with " freemen " and that the 
body of freemen consisted at first of those, 
and those only, who held burgages in the 

Individual charters throw some light 
upon the subject. In the earliest charter 
on record relating to the borough of Car- 
low, namely, that granted by William 
Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, in the year 
1296, the Earl granted to his burgesses of 
Carlow " all such liberties as burgesses 
ought to have, and as it was lawful for him 
to confer " and to have the power of mak- 
ing " such of their tenants free as held tene- 
ments of 20 feet of land, and that they 
might enjoy the common liberty with the 

16 Municipal Government in Ireland 

burgesses." A still earlier charter contains 
a similar provision. It was a charter 
granted by William, Earl Marshal, son-in- 
law of Strongbow, to his burgesses of Kil- 
kenny and attributed to the year 1223. 
In this charter it was granted that the 
burgesses might make their tenants free, 
by 20 feet of land, so that they should have 
common liberty with the burgesses. 

The body of freemen the inhabitants in 
possession of full civic rights did not, 
however, continue to be restricted to those 
holding burgage tenures. As population 
and commercial prosperity increased, it 
was doubtless felt necessary to enlarge the 
civic body. We accordingly read of new 
rights to freedom being admitted. Sons 
of freemen were admitted by right of 
birth. Sons-in-law of freemen were ad- 
mitted by right of marriage. Apprentices 
to freemen on completing their time were 
admitted by right of servitude or ap- 
prenticeship. In a statute made in 15 & 
1 6 Edward IV. mention is made of " freemen 
of the city of Waterford, by birth or 
apprenticeship." In a later statute of 15 

The Chartered Borough 17 

Henry VII. the three rights mentioned are 
recognised as existing in Dublin, Waterford 
and Drogheda. 


The early charters leave it doubtful as 
to the manner in which the civic govern- 
ment was organised. Mention is made 
of Common Councils, but no indication 
as to the qualification for membership is 
given, nor is it certain whether the Councils 
were restricted to a small number of 
privileged individuals or were open to all 
the freemen of the cities and towns. 

It is highly improbable that the actual 
work of government in any of our Irish 
towns, even the smallest, was participated 
in by the whole body of free burgesses. In 
a paper contributed by Mr. W. F. Butler, 
author of ' The Lombard Communes " 
to the Journal of the Cork Historical and 
Archaeological Society, a valuable contri- 
bution is made to this phase of the subject. 
He tells us that as a result of the growing 
prosperity of Irish towns due to their 

i8 Municipal Government in Ireland 

lucrative continental trade, there arose in 
many of them a kind of civic aristocracy, 
into whose hands there gradually passed 
complete control of municipal affairs. From 
a perusal of the list of mayors and sheriffs 
of Irish towns it appears that these offices 
were at first held by a wide circle of families, 
but that the circle gradually narrowed until 
control passed into the hands of small 
oligarchies composed of a few powerful 
city families. The most notable instance 
was that of the " tribes of Galway," the 
name applied to a group of fourteen families 
who ruled the city for a period of nearly 
two hundred and fifty years. In Kilkenny, 
Mr. Butler tells us, a group of ten families 
held sway. In Limerick, Waterford and 
Cork oligarchic rule also prevailed. In the 
last mentioned place the Danish element 
gradually rose into pre-eminence, and for 
a long period swayed the civic councils. 

In Kilkenny a small inner council was 
by charter granted the power of making 
laws and ordinances binding upon their 
fellow citizens. By a charter of the tenth 
year of Henry VII. 's reign it was declared 

The Chartered Borough 19 

that the sovereign, provost, and burgesses 
of Kilkenny might hold councils, convo- 
cations, and common assemblies in the 
Guildhall or Tholsel, except the common 
assemblies, four times in the year, of the 
commons, there usual, and that with the 
sovereign, provost, and their peers, in all 
such councils and convocations there be 
only sixteen of the more discreet burgesses 
to be elected by the sovereign, provosts 
and their peers ; and that acts and ordin- 
ances made by them, should have the same 
force as those made by the common assent 
of all the commons in the Tholsel. 

The municipal records of Dublin reveal 
the fact that the government of that city 
was vested in a Council which was remark- 
able for its symmetrical composition. It 
consisted of a mayor, two bailiffs or sheriffs, 
twenty-four jurats or jures, forty-eight 
demi-jures and ninety-six councillors. The 
two latter elements are frequently referred 
to as " The Numbers." They were also 
known as " The Forty-eight " and " The 
Ninety-six." Like the Irish Parliament, 
the Common Council was composed of two 

2O Municipal Government in Ireland 

Houses, an " Upper House " and a " Lower 
House." The Mayor and Jures sat together 
in the " Upper House " ; the demi-jures 
and the " Ninety-six " sat together in the 
"Lower House " which was presided over by 
the Bailiffs or Sheriffs, who probably alter- 
nated in the presidency. For several cen- 
turies, the constitution of the Common 
Council of Dublin remained as above 
described, the titles alone having changed. 
The Mayor became the '" Lord Mayor." 
The "Bailiffs" became "Sheriffs." The 
title of " jure " gave place to that of 
" Alderman " and that of " demi-jure " 
to "Sheriff's Peer." The Sheriff's Peers 
and the Ninety-six Councillors are referred 
to as the " Commons " of the city. It is 
interesting to note that the " Commons " 
consisted largely of guild representatives. 
In a document of the seventeenth century 
it is stated that the Ninety-six Councillors 
were elected into the Common Council out 
of several of the Guilds or Corporations of 
the city. This peculiar constitution was 
perpetuated down to the year 1840. 


An important feature common to the 
constitutions of Irish chartered towns was 
that known as the Hundred Court. In 
countries like France and England where 
the feudal regime reigned supreme the 
privilege of being freed from the juris- 
diction of the court of the feudal lord was 
highly valued. The inhabitants of the 
towns of France reckoned not the cost in 
blood or money in their struggle to secure 
that precious right. In England it was 
purchased with the wealth of the burghers. 
In Ireland it was a free gift, granted with 
a view to encouraging Englishmen and 
others to settle in Irish towns. Yet in 
semi-feudalised Ireland the privilege was 
none the less valuable. It was one of the 
most cherished rights of the civic constitu- 

The charters of Irish towns are a fruitful 
source of information concerning the 

22 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Hundred Court. The charter of Prince 
John to the citizens of Dublin in the year 
1192 conferred the following privileges 
amongst others upon the citizens, namely : 
that no citizen of Dublin should plead 
beyond the walls of the city in any plea, 
except pleas of extern tenements not ap- 
pertaining to the Hundred of the city, that 
no citizen should wage battle in the city 
on any appeal brought against him, but 
should clear himself by the oath of forty 
lawful men of the city, that no citizen 
should be amerced in money unless accord- 
ing to the law of the Hundred, and that the 
Hundred Court should be held only once 
in the week. In another charter granted 
by King John in the last year of his reign 
the citizens were confirmed in the foregoing 
liberties, with reservation to the king of 
the pleas of the Crown. In the charter 
granted to the burgesses of Drogheda 
versus Uriel by Henry III. in the year 1229 
it was provided that the Hundred (Court) 
should be held once within fifteen days, 
that no burgess of Drogheda should plead 
without the Hundred of the borough of 

The Hundred Court 23 

any plea, except pleas of external tenures, 
that pleas should be held at Drogheda of 
all debts contracted by the burgesses at 
Drogheda and of bail given there, that the 
burgesses might distrain their debtors by 
their pledges in Drogheda, that no burgess 
of Drogheda should be amerced of money 
in the Hundred, unless according to their 
ancient custom, namely, of twelve pence. 
Somewhat similar provisions occur in other 
early charters. 

The clause forbidding citizens or burgesses 
to plead without the walls of the city or 
without the Hundred of the borough appear- 
ing in the charters quoted was aimed at 
preventing interference in the administra- 
tion of justice on the part of neighbouring 
feudal lords. Such interference was often 
attempted and was bitterly resented. In 
the records of Dublin frequent mention is 
made of attempts made to remove causes 
from the jurisdiction of the Hundred Court. 
In the year 1266 a precept was issued by 
Prince Edward, afterwards Edward I., 
to the Mayor and Bailiffs of Dublin author- 
ising them to prevent encroachments 

24 Municipal Government in Ireland 

within his dominion, in the execution of 
ecclesiastical sentences under which his 
men were publicly beaten through the 
streets and ways. The precept complained 
that the ecclesiastics did not permit the 
decrees of the Prince's Court to be carried 
out within church territory in Dublin. 
Another precept of the same year to the 
Archbishops and Bishops strictly prohibited 
legal proceedings against the citizens of 
Dublin in ecclesiastical courts, unless in 
matrimonial or testamentary causes. The 
Archbishop of Dublin was not the only 
one who sought to interfere in the ad- 
ministration of justice in Dublin. In the 
year 1319 the Mayor and citizens successfully 
maintained the right of the citizens to have 
cases tried in their own court, and to be 
exempt from pleading elsewhere, unless 
in pleas connected with extern tenements. 
This assertion of civic rights arose out of 
an attempt upon the part of Edmund Le 
Botiller to have a suit for the recovery of 
land in Le Rath, near Donny brook, deter- 
mined outside of the Hundred Court. 
The charter granted to the burgesses of 

The Hundred Court 25 

Drogheda versus Uriel in the year 1253 
provided that no sheriffs or ministers should 
intermeddle in attachments or summonses 
within the borough, except the provosts 
and coroners of the borough. It further 
provided that if any burgess were attached 
without the borough the mayor and 
burgesses should have of him their court 
and give justice to the complainant. The 
burgesses of this same borough were further 
confirmed in their liberties by a charter of 
Edward II. of the year 1319 which 
ordained that they should not be disturbed 
by the King's Justiciary, Roger de Mortimer, 
in the privileges of their Hundred under 
former charters and confirmations. Thus 
were the inhabitants of Irish towns secured 
in the enjoyment of their own courts, 
where the law of the Hundred was adminis- 
tered by their own duly elected magis- 

The jurisdiction of the Hundred Court 
was very extensive and in course of time 
increased as new powers were added 
to those enjoyed by the civic magis- 
trates. King John in his charter to 

26 Municipal Government in Ireland 

the citizens of Dublin reserved to the 
King the pleas of the Crown. The excluded 
pleas are specifically mentioned in a charter 
granted by Edward III. to the citizens of 
Dublin in the year 1363. By this charter 
it was granted that officials of the king 
should not enter the city or suburbs to 
execute any process, unless in default of 
the mayor and bailiffs, except in relation 
to the four pleas, namely, rape, arson, 
forestalling and treasure trove, which the 
king retained entirely to himself and his 
ministers. In the year 1419 in con- 
sideration of the good services, exertions, 
expenses and losses of the Mayor and 
commonalty of Dublin in connection with 
the preservation and defence of the loyal 
subjects in that city the offices of Justice 
of the Peace and Justice of Labourers were 
conferred upon the Mayor and Bailiffs 
of Dublin. Under the powers thus con- 
ferred the Mayor and Bailiffs had cognizance 
and entire correction of all labourers, 
artificers, and victuallers dwelling in or 
passing through the city, with power to 
adjudicate on every matter appertaining 

The Hundred Court 27 

to the said offices. Still greater powers 
were conferred in the year 1485 by Richard 
III. who granted that the Mayor and 
Recorder of Dublin for the time being 
should be Justices of Oyer and Terminer 
within the City, suburbs and franchises on 
land, sea and fresh water and that they 
should be also Justices for gaol delivery. 
The importance of the powers conferred 
by this charter is evidenced by a note in 
the " Liber Albus " of Dublin in which 
this charter is enrolled. The note runs as 
follows : ' Heare a most beneficiall charter 
to Dublin, grauntinge therby to the Mayor 
and Recorder full power to hyre and 
determyne all cawses, viz., all felonies, 
trespasses, conspiracies, rebellions, mis- 
prisions, contemptes, forfeitures, conceale- 
mentes and other cawses by themselves 
within the cittie, and by no other justices 
eales, and the juries in this behalfe to be 
of the cittizens, and of no others eales. 
Note also that by this charter the Maior 
and Recorder hathe power of gaile delivere 
within Dublin, and no other justices eales." 
The extensive jurisdiction enjoyed by 

28 Municipal Government in Ireland 

the chief magistrates of Dublin was not 
peculiar to them alone. The charter of 
Edward III to Drogheda versus Uriel in 
the year 1363 granted that the mayor and 
bailiffs in the " gihald " of the borough 
should have cognizance of all pleas as well 
of tenures within the borough and suburbs, 
as of all trespasses and contracts happening 
there, and executions thereof, except 
ordinances of the staple. The mayor and 
recorder of the united borough of Drogheda 
were later appointed justices of the peace 
and justices of gaol delivery. The power 
to hold inquisitions of felonies and other 
crimes was specially mentioned. The 
charter of 3 Henry VII. to Waterford 
granted that the mayor and bailiffs should 
be justices for gaol delivery, to hear and 
determine all causes of treason, murder, 
robbery, felony, arson, and other crimes, 
and to inflict execution as well for life as 
limb, the king's justices not to interfere 
in such cases. These were extraordinary 
powers conferred upon the magistrates of 
a civic court, including, as they do, one 
of the pleas usually reserved elsewhere, 

The Hundred Court 29 

that of arson. The charter expressly 
forbade the interference of the King's 
justices in such cases. We have already 
mentioned the charter to Drogheda versus 
Uriel forbidding the King's Justiciary, 
Roger de Mortimer, to disturb the burgesses 
in the privileges of their Hundred. 

The reserved pleas were held and 
determined by the King's judges under 
their commissions. It is noteworthy that 
in Limerick, where felonies were reserved/ 
it was ordained by a charter of the year 
1413 that the mayor should be included in a 
commission to any other person to deter- 
mine such. 

Trial by jury was the rule in the Hundred 
Court and was specially provided for by 
the charters. In the charter of Prince 
John to the citizens of Dublin in the year 
1192 it was ordained that no citizen should 
wage battle in the city on any appeal 
brought against him, but should clear 
himself by the oath of forty lawful men of 
the city. Trial by battle was one of the 
peculiar incidents of the feudal system. 
Fortunately for the peace of the city and 

30 Municipal Government in Ireland 

for the cause of justice that method of 
settling disputes was forbidden, its place 
being taken by the method of compur- 
gation, the forerunner of the jury system. 
In the year 1334 Edward III. granted to 
the mayor and citizens of Dublin that they 
should not be impanelled on juries for recog- 
nitions or inquests in relation to extern 
lands, tenements, trespasses, contracts or 
extern affairs, before the King's justices 
or ministers within the city. Externs were 
not to be impanelled with citizens on juries 
for recognitions, or inquisitions concerning 
lands or tenements in the city, or of tres- 
passes, contracts, or other internal affairs, 
unless concerning the Crown or commonalty 
of the city. The mayor and citizens were 
to be tried only by their fellow-citizens^ 
except in cases concerning the Crown or 
commonalty of the city. In the charter 
of Edward III. to Drogheda versus Uriel 
in the year 1331 it was provided that 
strangers should not be put with the bur- 
gesses on assizes, juries or inquests, by 
reason of lands and tenements within the 
borough, or of trespasses or contracts 

The Hundred Court 31 

within, unless it touched the King or the 
commonalty of the borough ; and that 
they and their heirs and successors upon 
injuries, felonies, pleas and demands within, 
should not be convicted by strangers, but 
only by their co-burgesses. A similar pro- 
vision is contained in the charter of the 
same year to the borough on the other 
side of the Boyne. 

To enforce the appearance of an offending 
party before the mayor and bailiffs his body 
and goods might be attached. The pay- 
ment of debts was enforced by distraint 
of goods. In Prince John's charter to the 
citizens of Dublin in the year 1192 it was 
provided that the citizens might distrain 
their debtors by their chattels in Dublin. 
In an agreement made between the Arch- 
bishop of Dublin and the citizens in the 
year 1224 it was provided that the citizens 
should not distrain or attach any person 
in the houses of the clerics unless for theft 
or homicide. The citizens of Limerick 
were empowered by their charter, dated 
1291, to distrain their debtors by their 
chattels in Limerick. A charter of the year 

32 Municipal Government in Ireland 

1413 gave the mayor and bailiffs of that 
city cognizance of all pleas, real and per- 
sonal, assize of novel disseisin, mort 
d'ancestre and others with power to arrest 
and attach by body and goods within the 
city for all contracts and trespasses within 
the city and liberties, and according to law 
to imprison, punish, or discharge the 

The profits arising from the administration 
of justice formed an important part of the 
civic revenue. In those days conviction 
of felony resulted in the forfeiture of a 
man's goods. The charter to Drogheda 
of the year 1412 granted that the burgesses 
and commonalty should have all fines, 
issues, forfeitures and amercements per- 
taining to the justiciary of the peace within 
the county, for supporting and repairing 
the bridges of the town and other burthens 
daily arising ; and forfeitures of victuals, 
viz., bread, wine, ale and other things not 
pertaining to merchandise. They were like- 
wise to have the goods of felons and fugi- 
tives, escapes and other forfeitures of 
chattels, in aid of the sustaining of the fee 

The Hundred Court 33 

farm then fixed at one hundred marks. 
The citizens of Limerick, by their charter 
dated 1413, were granted the profits of all 
pleas, fines, amercements and issues to 
justices of the peace belonging, chattels 
of fugitives and felons, waifs, strays, and 
forfeitures of bread and other victuals. 
Fines were limited in amount by certain of 
the charters. Thus it was provided by the 
charter to the citizens of Dublin in the year 
1192 that no citizen should be amerced in 
money unless according to the law of the 
Hundred, that is to say, by forfeiture of 
forty shillings, so that he who was amerced 
should be quit of a moiety, and should pay 
the other moiety as amercement, excepting 
three amercements, namely, those of bread, 
ale and watch, which were amercements of 
two shillings and six pence, one moiety 
of which should be condor able, and the 
other paid as amercement. The " Chain 
Book " of Dublin contains a tariff of fines 
for various offences. The inhabitants of 
Drogheda versus Uriel were subject to much 
lighter fines than those of Dublin. Their 
charter of the year 1229 prescribed that no 

34 Municipal Government in Ireland 

burgess of Drogheda should be amerced 
of money in the Hundred, unless according 
to their ancient custom, namely, of twelve 

Prisoners were confined in the town 
gaol, of which mention is made in several 
charters. The charter of Richard III. to 
the citizens of Dublin granted that the 
mayor, bailiffs, commonalty and citizens 
should have charge of the King's gaol 
within the city, suburbs and franchises, 
with the custody of all felons and male- 
factors. Henry VII. 's charter to Waterford 
granted that the mayor, bailiffs and citizens 
should have a gallows and a prison within 
the city, with power to commit traitors, 
felons and other malefactors. The mention 
of the gallows points to the fact that capital 
punishment was inflicted for certain 
crimes. An earlier charter granted to 
the same citizens conferred power upon 
the mayor and commons to array all 
persons of every description, and to 
march against the disturbers of the 
peace and enemies, with banners dis- 
played, and to put to death rebels, 

The Hundred Court 35 

felons, traitors and those who supply 
the enemy with provisions. 

Besides the Hundred Court there also 
existed a bailiffs or sheriff's court, the 
nature of which is not defined by the early 
charters. Mention is made of this Court 
in the charter granted to the united borough 
of Drogheda by Henry IV. in the year 1412. 
Under this charter the sheriffs were em- 
powered to act as any other sheriffs and 
to hold their county on Mondays from 
month to month, and their court as often 
as it pleased them, as the bailiffs, on each 
side, had before done. 



The civic revenue was derived from a 
variety of sources. Contrary to the modern 
practice, very little of it arose from direct 
taxation. The chief sources of revenue 
were tolls and customs, the profits arising 
from the administration of justice before 
mentioned, corporate property, the burgage 
holdings of the inhabitants, assizes of bread 
and ale, assay of weights and measures, 
and in rare cases tallages imposed upon the 

Tolls and customs were levied under the 
authority of charters, royal grants or 
licences. They were usually granted for 
particular purposes and for limited periods. 
Thus Henry III., in the year 1221, granted 
permission to his good men of Dublin, in 
aid of enclosing that city, and for the 
security and protection of it, as well as of 
the adjacent parts, to levy tolls on certain 
specified articles brought to the city for 


Civic Revenue and Expenditure 37 

sale. This permission was to continue only 
during the King's minority. In the year 
1228 the same monarch granted a charter 
to " his good men of Drogheda " under 
which they were empowered to levy certain 
customs in aid of the making of the bridge 
of Drogheda. The citizens of Waterford 
were granted permission by Edward II. 
in the year 1310 to levy certain customs 
during a period of seven years in aid of the 
walling of the town. The burgesses of 
Drogheda versus Uriel were granted per- 
mission by Henry IV., in the year 1404, 
to levy customs and tolls in aid of enclosing 
and paving the town, and repairing and 
sustaining the towers, quay and bridge. 
The distinction between tolls and customs 
was that the former were charges levied 
on goods arriving by land, the latter were 
charges levied on goods arriving by sea. 

The levying of tolls and customs without 
authority rendered civic officers liable to 
severe penalties. The Dublin records 
contain an entry under the year 1317 in 
which it is stated that Roger de Mortimer, 
Lieutenant in Ireland for Edward II., 

38 Municipal Government in Ireland 

granted pardon to the mayor and bailiffs 
for having, without the King's license, 
levied a toll of four pence on every crannoc 
of corn brought to the city. 

The revenue of a town arising from this 
source was greatly increased when the 
burgesses enjoyed the privilege of holding 
an annual fair or a weekly market. Mar- 
kets and fairs could only be held by per- 
mission of the King or feudal lord. One 
of the privileges conferred by King John on 
the citizens of Dublin was that of holding 
an annual fair, with all the liberties and free 
customs appertaining to such a fair. It was 
to commence on the vigil of the festival 
of the Finding of the Holy Cross, and to 
continue during the fifteen following days. 
This privilege, or rather the profits arising 
from the fair, had to be shared with the 
Archbishop of Dublin, to whom the charter 
reserved the fair during two days, namely, 
the vigil of the festival and the festival 
itself. Permission to hold an annual fair 
lasting seven days and a market on 
every Wednesday was granted to the 
burgesses of Drogheda versus Midiam 

Civic Revenue and Expenditure 39 

by a charter of Henry III. in the year 

Whilst dealing with the subject of tolls 
and customs it may be mentioned that 
freedom from these payments was a pri- 
vilege frequently mentioned in charters. 
Henry II. granted to his burgesses of Dublin 
freedom from toll, passage, pontage, lestage, 
pavage, murage, quayage, carriage, and all 
custom for themselves and their goods, 
throughout his entire land of England, 
Normandy, Wales and Ireland. Infringe- 
ment of the charter was prohibited under 
penalty of ten pounds. This was a valuable 
privilege in times when tolls and customs 
were both numerous and burdensome. The 
citizens of Cork, Limerick, Waterford and 
other places were similarly privileged. The 
feudal barons granted a similar privilege 
to the towns established on their domains, 
but it was circumscribed by narrower 
limits. Thus the Earl of Pembroke ex- 
empted his burgesses of Carlow from toll, 
lastage, passage, pontage, and all other 
customs throughout his whole land, except 
the towns of Pembroke and Wexford. 

40 Municipal Government in Ireland 

This right to free trade was often in- 
fringed. The records of Dublin contain 
an entry stating that Brother William 
Tany, Prior of the Hospital of St. John of 
Jerusalem in Ireland, renounced all right 
thenceforth (A.D. 1381) to take customs 
of merchants or merchandise of any kind 
passing, remaining, or standing in the 
water of Auenlyf within the boundaries of 
the franchises of the city. Another entry 
of the same year records the submission 
of Henry Kent, and the application by him 
for pardon of the court of the city for having 
exacted customs from divers men in the 
water of Auenlyf near Clontarf, within the 
city boundaries. 

Corporate property provided another 
source of revenue. Mention has already 
been made of the fact that the burgesses 
of Irish towns were endowed by their 
charters with a more or less considerable 
stretch of territory adjacent to the town 
walls. Portions of this territory were 
alienated in perpetuity or leased for terms 
of years to individual burgesses or to 
religious communities, before the Mortmain 

Civic Revenue and Expenditure 41 

Act restricted alienation of lands to the 
latter. The revenue arising from these 
grants helped to fill the civic coffers. In 
the Dublin records we read that such grants 
were made in the full Hundred Court before 
all the commonalty. The common assent 
of the citizens was necessary to sanction 
the disposal of public lands. For their 
burgage holdings within the city walls 
small annual payments were made by the 

Tallages or levies were also imposed at 
times. In the year 1363 King Edward 
III. granted that foreign merchants coming 
with their wares for sale to Dublin, Water- 
ford, and Drogheda should pay, along with 
the citizens, aid and contribution to the 
tallages and other burthens of the said 
cities. Under the provisions of the Staple 
Act they had hitherto bought and sold 
freely in these places. In the year 1427, 
Henry VI. granted that the sum of twenty 
pounds per annum should be deducted from 
the Crown rent of Dublin during the ensuing 
twenty years. The grant was stated to be 
made in consequence of representations 

42 Municipal Government in Ireland 

made by the mayor, bailiffs and commons 
of the city that owing to pestilence, incur- 
sions by Irish enemies and divers heavy 
burthens in the time of the King and his 
progenitors the citizens were unable to 
pay the rent to the Crown without imposing 
tallage on the commonalty. It would seem, 
therefore, that these tallages were extraor- 
dinary payments. 

Further revenue was derived from the 
assize of bread and ale, and the custody and 
assay of measures and weights. In a 
charter granted to the burgesses of Drogheda 
versus Uriel by Edward III. in the year 
1331 it was declared that the profits of 
the assize and assay should belong to the 
burgesses in aid of the fee farm of the town. 
In the year 1334 the mayor and citizens of 
Dublin were granted the assize of bread and 
ale and the custody and assay of measures 
and weights. 


From the civic revenue we pass to a con- 
sideration of the civic expenditure, some 

Civic Revenue and Expenditure 43 

of the items of which have been already 
indicated. The fee farm rent was a fixed 
item of expenditure and could only be 
altered by royal consent. As a matter of 
royal favour portion of the fee farm rent 
was sometimes remitted in times of stress, 
or as a reward for services rendered. Thus 
in the year 1316 Edward II. remitted the 
rent payable by the citizens of Dublin to 
the Crown, to the extent of sixty pounds 
per annum during the ensuing four years, 
in consideration of losses entailed on the 
citizens by concourse of armed men march- 
ing towards Ulster against the Scots ; the 
destruction of the greater part of the 
suburbs of the city ; and the decrease of 

The defence of the towns against " Irish 
enemies " and " English rebels " necessit- 
ated a considerable expenditure. In the 
middle ages every Irish town of any im- 
portance was surrounded by strong walls, 
pierced here and there with great gates, 
and fortified with towers overlooking the 
neighbouring country. The upkeep of the 
walls and gates and towers involved a 

44 Municipal Government in Ireland 

constant drain upon the civic purse. The 
proceeds of the tolls and customs which 
the citizens were permitted to levy were 
often specifically allocated by charter for 
this purpose. Murage grants are of fre- 
quent occurrence in the records of Irish 

To render aid in the defence of one's 
town was an important civic duty. Milit- 
ary service on the part of the inhabitants 
of Irish cities and towns seems to have 
been obligatory. In a charter granted by 
Henry VI. to Waterford the King conferred 
power upon the mayor and commons to 
array all persons of every description, and 
to march against the disturbers of the peace 
and enemies, with banners displayed, and 
to put to death rebels, felons, and traitors, 
and all those who supply the enemy with 
provisions. During the period of the 
invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce 
(A.D. 1316-1318) the common folk of 
Dublin presented a statement of their 
grievances to the mayor, bailiffs and com- 
monalty with a petition that certain recom- 
mendations therein mentioned should be 

Civic Revenue and Expenditure 45 

adopted. Amongst the latter they peti- 
tioned that under penalty of grievous 
amercement at least one man should come 
to muster from every house at the tolling 
of the public bell by day or night while 
the land should be troubled by the Scotch 
enemies, and by the hostile Irish who daily 
threatened to burn the suburb and to do all 
possible damage to the city. And again 
that in the four quarters of the city on 
Wednesdays and Thursdays weekly, after 
dinner, one man at least should come from 
each house for public works, that meanwhile 
all the shops should be closed, and that 
those who during that time sold goods 
contrary to this order should be fined, and 
the amount applied to the public works 
of the city. The fortification of the city 
was the most important of the public works. 
No payment appears to have been made for 
such services, they being regarded as part 
of the civic duty of the inhabitants. When, 
however, a hosting or journey had to be 
made beyond the city walls, the expenses 
were paid. Several items relating to such 
expenditure occur in the Dublin records. 

46 Municipal Government in Ireland 

At a meeting of the Dublin City Assembly 
held on the fourth Friday after Michaelmas 
in the year 1454, it was ordained that no 
apprentice of a merchant should be admitted 
to the franchise of the city until he should 
have a " jake bowe," sheaf, " sallet " 
(light helmet), and a sword of his own ; 
and that all apprentices of other crafts 
should have a bow, arrows, and sword. 
Thus did the City Fathers impress upon the 
newly enrolled citizen the necessity of 
being ever ready to take his share according 
to his ability in the defence of the city. 

Amongst other public works necessitating 
expenditure were the paving of the streets 
and the erection and maintenance of public 
buildings and bridges. The expenses were 
usually defrayed by the proceeds of tolls 
and customs. Thus in the year 1404 King 
Henry IV. conferred a charter upon the 
burgesses of Drogheda versus Uriel granting 
certain customs and tolls in aid of enclosing 
and paving the town, and repairing and 
sustaining the towers, quay, and bridge. 

The expenses of the watch or police 
system was another item of expenditure. 

Civic Revenue and Expenditure 47 

It is mentioned in the statement of griev- 
ances of the common folk of Dublin 
already mentioned. Therein it was peti- 
tioned that the expenses of the watch 
should be contributed to both by rich and 

Civic officers and servants were another 
charge upon the public purse. Amongst 
the officers mentioned in the mediaeval 
records are the mayor or other chief officer, 
the bailiffs or sheriffs, the recorder, coroner, 
the clerk of the city, the treasurer, the 
sword-bearer and the water bailiffs, while a 
host of others must have been engaged in 
connection with the markets and the col- 
lection of the tolls and customs. Amongst 
the laws and usages of the City of Dublin 
mentioned in the " Chain Book " it is re- 
corded that the commonalty should have 
their clerk, at the payment of five marks 
annually and legal perquisites, that each 
sergeant should have half a mark as yearly 
fee, and the mayor of Dublin the modest 
sum of ten pounds a year. 

Provisions were contained in some of the 
charters and grants that the moneys arising 

48 Municipal Government in Ireland 

from the grants should be expended only 
upon the purposes for which they were 
conferred, and that the acounts should be 
audited. Thus in the year 1336 John 
Darcy, Justiciary in Ireland for Edward 
III., granted to the mayor, bailiffs and 
citizens of Dublin certain customs for a 
period of ten years, the moneys arising 
therefrom to be expended exclusively upon 
the Tholsel and the completion of the paving 
of the city. In a grant made by Richard II. 
to the citizens of Dublin, dated January 
9th, 1385, it is stated that great inconven- 
ience and damage had been caused to the 
citizens of Dublin, and other liege subjects, 
by the fall and breaking down of the great 
bridge of that city. To aid towards its 
repair, the King granted to the mayor, 
bailiffs and citizens for four years ensuing, 
the city ferry over the Liffey, with permis- 
sion to take the following tolls : of every 
man and woman, one farthing ; of every 
ox, cow, horse, mare, and horse-load 
valued at twelve pence, also of every 
ox-carcase, one half-penny ; of every 
load of less value, and of every pig, sheep, 

Civic Revenue and Expendtiure 49 

or carcase thereof, one farthing ; of all 
other goods ferried, a reasonable toll in 
proportion to quantity and value, according 
to the discretion of the mayor and bailiffs. 
The issues and receipts of the ferry tolls 
and customs, beyond the reasonable outlay, 
were to be applied towards the repair 
and construction of the bridge, under the 
supervision of the Abbot of the House of 
the Blessed Virgin Mary, near Dublin, 
and six others named. Annual accounts 
were to be rendered at the King's Ex- 
chequer in Ireland. In a charter granted 
by Henry VI. to the burgesses of Drogheda 
in the year 1442, twenty marks annually were 
allotted out of the fee farm rent of the town 
towards the expenses of the town walls. 
This charter was afterwards confirmed by 
an Act of Parliament in the thirtv-seventh 


year of Henry's reign with the direction 
that the money should be applied to the 
repairs of the Tholsel and bridge as well as 
the walls and that an account should be 
rendered annually before four men of the 
town, elected annually by the burgesses 
of the town in their common assembly. 

50 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Civic auditors were appointed annually 
in Dublin for the auditing of the municipal 


In the economic sphere Irish citizens 
and burgesses exercised important powers 
under their civic constitutions. Control 
of trade and industry was exercised either 
through the medium of the merchant 
and craft guilds which they were permitted 
to establish by their charters or directly 
by the common councils. Prince John 
in the year 1192 granted to the citizens 
of Dublin that they should have all their 
reasonable guilds as the burgesses of Bristol 
had. The " Red Book " of Bristol records 
that a free guild of merchants had existed 
in that town, from time beyond the memory 
of man, and that the said guild was con- 
firmed in its liberties by John, Earl of 
Moreton, afterwards King John. In the 
year 12-29 the burgesses of Drogheda versus 
Uriel were granted by charter the right of 
having a guild merchant, with hanse and 
other liberties, and free customs to that 


52 Municipal Government in Ireland 

guild belonging, and that none, but those 
of the guild, should make merchandise in 
the borough, unless by the will of the 
burgesses. Limerick and Waterford were 
granted a privilege similar to that enjoyed 
by Dublin, namely, that they should have 
all reasonable guilds as the burgesses of 
Bristol had. Gross, in his history of the 
Guild Merchant, mentions fifteen Irish cities 
and boroughs wherein a guild merchant 
existed during the mediaeval period. The 
guild merchant was the most important of 
all the guilds. 

The townsmen were secured in the 
enjoyment of the profits of trade by various 
restrictions imposed upon merchant stran- 
gers. All merchants who were non-resid- 
ent in a town were styled " strangers " 
or " foreigners." In the Dublin charter 
of the year 1192 it was provided that no 
foreign merchant should buy within the 
city corn, hides, or wool, from a foreigner, 
but only from the citizens ; that no foreign 
merchant should have a wine tavern, unless 
on ship board ; that no foreign merchant 
should sell cloth in the city by retail ; and 

Control of Trade and Industry 53 

that no foreign merchant should tarry in 
the city, with his wares for sale, beyond forty 
days. Similar provisions occur in the 
charters of Waterford, Drogheda, and other 
towns. During the great annual fairs which 
were held these provisions seem to have 
been relaxed and freedom of trade per- 

The duty of seeing that correct weights 
and measures were used in the conduct of 
trade was cast upon the mayor and bailiffs 
or other corporate officers by the charters 
of Irish towns. Equally important to the 
inhabitants was the right of obtaining 
food and drink of pure quality. Bread 
and ale were the most important articles 
of diet in daily use. Accordingly, the 
charters provided for an assize of bread and 
beer. In other words the civic officers 
were empowered to examine the bread 
and beer offered for sale with a view to 
ensuring that the standard quality was 
maintained and that standard weights and 
measures were used. Penalties were im- 
posed upon those who infringed in any 
of these respects. The antiquity of the 

54 Municipal Government in Ireland 

custom of stamping bread with the baker's 
name goes back to mediaeval times. One 
of the earliest ordinances of the Dublin 
City Assembly on record provided that 
bakers should not make bread unless 
stamped with their own names. Un- 
stamped bread was to be forfeited and the 
bakers fined at the discretion of the Court. 
As an instance of the powers in these matters 
conferred upon the officers of Irish towns, 
we may cite the provision in the charter 
granted by Edward III. in the year 1331 
to the burgesses of Drogheda versus Uriel 
whereby it was declared that the burgesses 
should have, in the absence of the King, 
the assize of bread and beer, and the custody 
and assay of measures and weights and 
other things whatsoever to the office per- 
taining within the borough, and that they 
should punish transgressors of the assize, 
and correct defects of measures and weights, 
and of other things to the said office of the 
market pertaining, so that the King's clerk 
of the market should not interfere, save 
to examine and correct the standard, and 
that the profits of the assize and assay should 

Control of Trade and Industry 55 

belong to the burgesses in aid of the farm of 
the town, the mayor and bailiffs to be fined 
and amerced if they neglected their duty. 

Important powers with regard to the 
fixing of rates of wages and the adjudicating 
upon disputes between masters and men 
were attached to the offices of justice of 
the peace and justice of labourers. These 
offices were conferred upon the chief magis- 
trates of several Irish towns. In the year 
1419 Richard Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, 
Deputy of John Talbot, Lieutenant in 
Ireland for Henry V., granted that the 
Mayor and Bailiffs of Dublin for the time 
being should be Justices of the Peace and 
Justices of Labourers ; that they should 
have cognizance and entire correction of all 
labourers, artificers, and victuallers dwelling 
in or passing through the city, and that they 
should have power to adjudicate on every 
matter appertaining to the said offices. 

The records of the City of Dublin show 
that the Municipal Assembly exercised 
important powers with regard to the city 
food supply. Ordinances were made for 
the prevention of regrating and forestalling, 

56 Municipal Government in Ireland 

that is, for the prevention of a few men 
getting the control of the supply of corn 
and other important articles of food, and 
selling them at enhanced prices. The City 
Assembly likewise fixed rates of wages and 
the prices of articles of food. In addition 
it enforced good workmanship in articles 
manufactured within the city. The exer- 
cise of these powers by the City Assembly, 
powers usually associated with the merchant 
and craft guilds, shows that the latter 
bodies were subordinate in authority to 
the Assembly, even in matters so vitally 
concerning the interests of their members. 


An important part in the regulation of 
industry was played by the guilds. As 
already mentioned, the grant of the right 
to have merchant and other guilds was a 
common feature in the civic charters. At 
first all those who bought or sold goods 
whether of their own manufacture or other- 
wise seem to have been enrolled in the guild 
merchant. Thus in the Dublin Guild 
Merchant of the thirteenth century the 

Control of Trade and Industry 57 

membership included those engaged in 
various arts and crafts as well as those who 
followed the art of merchandise.* As in- 
dustry and commerce developed in the 
cities and towns of Ireland it was found 
more convenient to organise the different 
industries into distinct guilds under the 
control of their own officers. The essence 
of the guild system was its exclusiveness. 
No one outside the ranks of the guilds was 
allowed to engage in any art or craft, unless 
in very exceptional circumstances. Beyond 
the fact of the existence of guilds in nume- 
rous cities and towns of Ireland, we are 
unable to learn much of their organisation 
in the mediaeval period elsewhere than in 
Dublin, the guild records of other towns 
not having been published. 

The Dublin Municipal Records contain 
numerous references to the city guilds. 
They show that in that city the guild 
organisation had reached a high state of 
development and performed a useful func- 
tion in the regulation of trade and industry 

*See article entitled "The Guilds of Dublin" in the "Irish 
Monthly," August 1917. 

58 Municipal Government in Ireland 

therein. One feature which springs into 
prominence in connection with the Dublin 
guilds was their strict subordination to the 
City Assembly. While the City Fathers 
encouraged in every way the formation of 
guilds and the promotion of the welfare 
of the guildsmen they firmly insisted that 
the monopoly enjoyed by the guilds- 
men should not be used to the detriment 
of the common welfare. The use of 
fraudulent weights and measures, the 
charging of excessive prices, bad workman- 
ship and other faults to which the guildsmen 
were liable were severely punished. Should 
the members of a guild prove obdurate the 
City Fathers had a powerful and unfailing 
weapon in their armoury they could 
throw open any art or craft to strangers 
and non-guildsmen. On more than one 
occasion this was done in order to punish 
the Dublin guilds and preserve the common 
welfare. Disputes between the guilds in 
regard to their respective spheres of 
industry a by no means uncommon 
occurrence were submitted to and settled 
by the City Assembly. 



From the picture of civic government 
here outlined it is clear that the towns of 
mediaeval Ireland enjoyed an existence com- 
parable in many ways with that of the 
Italian republics or French communes of the 
same period. Owing to the greater weakness 
of the central government in Ireland, 
Irish towns enjoyed an existence more 
nearly approaching the state of independent 
republics than the English boroughs whose 
activities were restricted by the stronger 
central power. The droit de guerre privee 
the right of making private war one of 
the cherished privileges of the French and 
Italian communes, was unknown in England. 
War with neighbouring Irish clans was a 
frequently recurring feature in the history 
of some Irish towns. Alliances between 
towns for mutual welfare and defence such 
as appear in the history of continental 

60 Municipal Government in Ireland 

towns during the middle ages occur in the 
history of our Irish towns. Dublin and 
Drogheda in the year 1252 entered into a 
compact to maintain mutual peace and 
amity. The citizens and burghers agreed 
to render mutual aid in resisting any who 
sought to trouble or molest them. In the 
year 1285 the alliance was enlarged by the 
admission of new allies. These were the 
cities of Waterford, Limerick, and Cork. 
The terms of the alliance, the object of 
which was the maintenance of their res- 
pective liberties appear in the ' White 
Book " of Dublin. The mere fact of the 
alliance is a sufficient indication of the 
weakness of the central government. 

The civic communities dwelling within 
these walled towns did not live, however, 
in complete isolation from the central 
power. In the matters of justice, taxation 
and legislation they were brought into 
touch with the royal government. In the 
administration of justice we have already 
seen that the Hundred Courts possessed 
a wide jurisdiction but that their juris- 
diction did not extend to the special pleas 

Relations with the Central Government 61 

of rape, arson, forestalling and treasure 
trove. These were specially reserved for 
the king's justices who went on circuit 
from town to town as is the custom to-day. 
Thus we read in a charter of Richard II. 
to Dundalk that a certain election was to 
take place in the presence of the King's 
Justices when they came to Dundalk to 
hold the Assizes and keep the pleas of the 

The royal revenue from the fee farm 
rents of Irish towns has already been 
mentioned. Further revenue was derived 
from indirect taxation in the shape of 
royal customs dues. A certain custom 
called the " coket " was levied, the proceeds 
of which went to the king. By letters 
patent of the year 1376, Edward III. 
granted to the mayor and commonalty 
of the City of Waterford the custom due 
to him at the said city called " coket " 
for a period of ten years, the citizens to 
pay each year at his treasury in England 
one hundred shillings in two instalments. 
The purpose of the grant was stated in a 
writ of the following year to be for the repair 

62 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of the quays and walls of the city. A 
statute of 15 and 16 Edward IV. directs 
that the freemen of the city of Waterford 
should be .freed from the payment of 
poundages charged on all merchandise im- 
ported into, and exported from Ireland. 
This same tax is mentioned in a statute 
of the fifteenth year of Henry VI I. 's reign 
by which the King was granted one shilling 
out of every twenty shillings' worth of all 
merchandise imported or exported for sale 
(wine and oil excepted). Edward III., 
by letters patent dated the I5th May, 
1375, granted to the mayor and common- 
alty of Dublin the King's custom in the 
city and port of Dublin and in the other 
ports between Skerries and Arklow, called 
the Great New Custom ; also the Small 
Custom together with the right to the 
King's seal appertaining to the custom. 
Collectors or customers were to be elected 
and sworn by the Mayor and commonalty 
annually, and they were to have the sole 
use of the seal of the " coket." 

State papers relating to Ireland show 
that from an early period the Kings of 

Relations with the Central Government 63 

England were in the habit of calling upon 
the towns of Ireland for help in money or 
otherwise to enable them to prosecute 
their foreign wars. Thus, towards the close 
of the year 1241, when Henry III. was 
engaged in making war upon the King of 
France, a mandate was issued to Maurice 
FitzGerald, the Justiciary of Ireland, 
ordering him to cause all Irish cities, burghs 
and demesnes of the King to be taxed. In 
the same year a mandate was issued by 
Henry III. to the mayor and citizens of 
Dublin whereby the King commanded his 
good men of Dublin to cause a new galley 
to be made, and with the one they already 
had, to be well equipped and prepared to 
go on the King's service whither the King 
should order. Similar letters were ad- 
dressed to the men of Waterford order- 
ing them to prepare and equip two 
galleys. Drogheda, Cork, and Limerick 
were ordered to have one galley each in 

The destination of these ships of war 
appears from another mandate, dated 7th 
July, 1242, whereby the King ordered his 

64 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Justiciary in Ireland to cause the King's 
galleys to be sent well equipped and manned 
to the coasts of Poitou, Normandy, Brittany 
and Boulogne to harass the King of France 
and the King's other enemies. At the same 
time a further mandate was issued to the 
Mayor and good men of Dublin requiring 
them to send all their galleys and ships to 
those parts. 

In the year 1253 a further call was made 
upon the cities and towns of Ireland. 
According to one of the State Papers of 
that year it appears that the King's land 
of Gascony was so disturbed that unless 
speedy succour were afforded its loss 
might be apprehended, and that Henry 
was about to start for that country. The 
Justiciary was accordingly commanded 
to procure aid from the archbishops, 
bishops, abbots and others in Ireland and 
from the vills, cities, and burghs of that 

The cities and towns of Ireland, therefore, 
seem to have formed an important source 
of supply to the Kings of England when in 
need of men or ships or money. 

Relations with the Central Government 65 


For the details of the representation in 
Parliament of Irish cities and towns during 
the early mediaeval period we are indebted 
to Dr. Lynch's admirable work, " A View 
of the Legal Institutions, Honorary Here- 
ditary Offices, and Feudal Baronies es- 
tablished in Ireland during the Reign of 
Henry the Second." Mention is made 
therein of the holding of several Parliaments 
or Public Councils as early as the reign of 
King John. The most interesting of these 
from the municipal point of view is that 
which was summoned by the King's writ, 
dated loth February in the fifth year of 
King John's reign. Writs were issued to 
the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, 
Archdeacons, and Clergy, the Earls, Barons, 
Justices, Sheriffs, Knights, Citizens, Mer- 
chants, Burgesses, and Freeholders, and 
all other his faithful subjects in Ireland 
acquainting them that an " Aid " had been 
granted him in England, and praying them 
to grant him a similar " Aid " in this 
moment of his necessity as the Justiciary 

66 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of Ireland, Walter de Lacy, would declare 
to them. To obtain an extraordinary ' ' Aid ' ' 
like the above was the principal cause at 
that period, according to Dr. Lynch, of 
convoking full Parliaments ; only in the 
Commune Concilium could such supplies 
be granted. 

In the 28th year of the reign of Henry III. 
that King ordered his Justiciary in Ireland 
to cause equal weights and measures to be 
used throughout Ireland ; he first, however, 
convoking a Council of all the discreet 
burgesses of that land, " convocato prius 
consilio discretorum omnium burgensium de 
terra nostra Hiberniae." . 

Ten years later writs were issued by the 
same monarch to the Prelates and Mag- 
nates of Ireland and to the Freemen, 
Citizens and Burgesses, stating that 
Nicholas de Sancto Neoto, Prior of St. 
John's of Jerusalem in England, and John 
Fitz Geoffrey, the Justiciary, would explain 
to them the King's necessities in his war 
and the danger of the loss of Gascony, 
then threatened by the King of Castile, 
and requesting them to come over with all 

Relations with the Central Government 67 

possible men and money to the defence of 
the said land. 

Edward I., being in need of money for 
the prosecution of his wars against the 
Welsh, directed Thomas de Clare to have 
"colloquium et tractatum" with the Abbots, 
Priors, and other Religious, the Citizens, 
Burgesses, Merchants, and Commons of 
the cities, boroughs and mercantile towns 
of Ireland for the purpose of obtaining a 
loan of money for the King. 

In the 28th year of Edward I.'s reign 
writs were directed to all cities and boroughs 
throughout Ireland summoning them to 
a " general Parliament " at Easter in 
Dublin. The commons of the cities and 
boroughs were directed to be represented 
by two or three burgesses each. The writ 
notified them that the king was about 
proceeding to Carlisle to repress a rebellion 
of the Scotch for which purpose he needed 
a subsidy. 

The proceedings of the Parliament held 
to grant this subsidy are detailed in the 
Chief Remembrancer's Roll of that year. 
The record relates that previous to the 

68 Municipal Government in Ireland 

meeting of the Parliament the Justiciary 
made a tour of the cities and towns with 
the chief officers of each of which he had 
diligent treaty as to the subsidy. From 
Drogheda, we learn, 260 marks were 
obtained 200 marks from Drogheda ex 
parte Uriel, and 60 marks from Drogheda 
ex parte Midiae. The reason given by Lynch 
for this remarkable itinerary was that the 
continued applications of the King for sub- 
sidies and aids had made his Irish Parlia- 
ment doubtful of its ability to obtain new 
supplies from the country. 

In the 3rd year of Edward II. 's reign 
writs of Parliamentary summons were issued 
to the Prelates and Magnates of Ireland, 
as also to the Sheriffs for the election of 
two Knights out of every county and of 
two Burgesses out of each city or borough. 

In the thirty-first year of his reign King 
Edward III. issued his Ordinatio pro Statu 
Hiberniae in which he directed that Councils 
might be held to which only the Prelates 
and Magnates and certain of the more 
discreet and upright men of the neigh- 
bourhood where the Council happened to 

Relations with the Central Government 69 

meet should be summoned. In comment- 
ing upon this curious ordinance, Dr. Lynch 
says that it " gave Royal sanction to a 
measure of indispensable necessity." The 
practice of frequently calling nobles 
from their estates to every place, however 
distant, where parliaments were held was, 
he said, attended not only with danger to 
themselves, but with considerable detri- 
ment to the English districts in general, 
which usually suffered at such times from 
hostile invasions. We might add also that 
it throws a flood of light upon the state of 
the towns in mediaeval Ireland. In what 
a state of isolation must some of them have 
existed when they had only their stout walls 
and the strong arms of their burghers to 
defend and maintain their existence ! 

Acting upon the Ordinance mentioned 
writs of summons were issued two years 
later to certain of the Prelates, Peers and 
Commoners, some of whom resident in the 
southern part of Ireland, were directed to 
assemble at Waterford, while those of the 
nearer parts of Leinster were summoned to 
meet at Dublin. The representatives of 

70 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Drogheda ex utraque parte aquae were 
directed to attend at Dublin, those of Cork 
at Waterford. Amongst other towns re- 
presented at either of the two places were 
Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, 
Rosse (New Ross), Clonmel, and Wexford. 

In 48 Edward III. writs of Parliamentary 
summons were issued to Dublin, Waterford, 
Cork, Limerick, Drogheda ex utraque parte 
aquae, Youghal, Kinsale, Rosse, Wexford 
and Kilkenny. 

In the list of towns summoned to the 
Parliament which met in the first year of 
Richard IL's reign, Galway and Athenry 
appear while Kinsale disappears, although 
summoned to the Parliament last men- 

The representation of Irish cities and 
towns in the Councils or Parliaments held 
in Ireland in the early mediaeval period is 
important also from the point of view of 
Irish constitutional history. From the 
study of the early writs of summons the 
remarkable fact appears that the cities and 
towns of Ireland were represented in an 
Irish Parliament or Common Council at 

Relations with the Central Government 71 

an earlier date than were the English 
boroughs in an English Parliament. 

Citizens and burgesses were summoned 
to the Parliaments or Public Councils held 
in Ireland in the years 1204 and 1254. 
It is a moot point whether these assemblies 
can be properly styled " Parliaments." 
They are so designated by Dr. Lynch. 
In Dr. Stubbs' " History of the English 
Constitution " there is no mention of the 
burgesses of English towns having been 
summoned to any Parliament or Common 
Council before the year 1265 the year of de 
Montfort's Parliament. The represen- 
tation of the shires, cities and boroughs 
was, he said, the great feature of that 
Parliament. He suggests but does not 
claim that the representatives were elected, 
the writs of summons containing no order 
for the election of representatives. The 
writs of Parliamentary Summons of the 
years 1204 and 1254 quoted by Dr. Lynch 
contain no order for the election by the 
citizens and burgesses of their represen- 
tatives. The machinerv of the Hundred 


Court may, however, have been availed of 

72 Municipal Government in Ireland . 

for that purpose. That burgess represen- 
tation in Parliament took place in Ireland 
at a period anterior to that important 
event in England would be by no means 
improbable, as the English colonists, the 
supporters of English power in Ireland, 
were, as we have seen, to a large extent 
grouped together in Irish cities and towns. 

In this connection the Parliament which 
assembled in Ireland in the year 1254, 
the 38th year of King Henry III.'s reign, 
is important. In the same year a Parlia- 
ment was summoned hi England for a 
similar purpose, namely, to grant the King 
assistance in men and money in his des- 
perate straits in Gascony. To the Irish 
Parliament the citizens and burgesses were 
summoned. Four chosen knights from each 
county and representatives of the clergy 
of each diocese were, according to Dr. 
Stubbs, summoned to the Parliament in 
England. As to the representation of the 
cities and boroughs he is silent. 



The system of municipal government 
which existed in mediaeval Ireland and 
which has been described in these pages 
would have resulted in the conferring of 
great and permanent benefit upon the 
country had its advantages been extended 
to the people of Ireland generally. But 
such, unfortunately, was not the case. 
A narrow-minded and short-sighted policy 
upon the part of the rulers of the con- 
quering race confined those advantages to 
their own people and that policy was 
reflected in the civic councils. As with the 
Romans of old, the town was used as an 
instrument for extending the sway and 
maintaining the power of the conquerors. 
The existing towns fell rapidly into the 
hands of the Anglo-Norman barons and 
were peopled by their followers and others 
from England, the old inhabitants Danish 
and Irish having to make way for the 


74 Municipal Government in Ireland 

newcomers. According as the tribe-lands 
were wrested from the native population 
strong castles were built under the shelter 
of whose walls English settlers were induced 
to establish their homes, being tempted by 
the offer of privileges with regard to their 
government and trade. Thus Kilkenny, 
Trim and other towns sprang up. The 
towns were walled and fortified with towers 
after the manner of the time. As the 
civilian population as well as the military 
were trained to the use of arms, the groups 
of people within the town walls were as so 
many garrisons to hold the native popu- 
lation in check and to act as outposts for a 
further advance. In the towns of the 
Roman empire the new colonists were 
encouraged to become as one with the old 
inhabitants with whom they freely inter- 
married, and to adapt themselves to the 
laws and customs of their neighbours. 
Even purely military garrisons in course 
of time became civilian populations whose 
interests were welded with those of the 
surrounding district. No attempt was made 
to force the language, laws and customs of 

Relations with the Native Population 75 

Rome upon an unwilling population, nor was 
any attempt made to treat the old inhabi- 
tants as strangers in their own land or even 
to place them in a position inferior to that 
of the new settlers. It was in this liberal- 
minded and far-sighted policy that the 
secret of Rome's success as a colonising 
force and empire builder lay. It is in the 
pursuance of a policy the direct reverse of 
that of imperial Rome that the secret of 
England's failure during a period of over 
seven centuries to weld Ireland into a 
harmonious part of her empire is to be 
sought. Irishmen were treated as outcasts 
and aliens in their own land. Their tribal 
customs were ignored, their laws and lan- 
guage banned and they themselves cut off 
as far as possible from friendly intercourse 
with the new settlers. Down through the 
centuries this policy of aloofness was im- 
posed upon and observed by the civic 
communities. To carry out that policy 
rigidly and relentlessly during a long period 
was a practical impossibility. Relaxations 
of it were made from time to time owing to 
the good sense of the burghers, but in the 

76 Municipal Government in Ireland 

main the policy was persisted in. The extent 
to which that policy militated against 
the true welfare of the inhabitants of Irish 
towns cannot easily be estimated. The 
Irish people who were friendly and hos- 
pitable by nature would have quickly 
assimilated the foreign element in the 
country, were it not for the policy adopted. 
They were forced by it in self defence to 
counter hostility by hostility, with the result 
that war between townsmen and clansmen 
became a common feature in the history 
of the country. 

The records of Irish towns evidence the 
unsatisfactory relations between the colo- 
nists and the native population. Those of 
Dublin, a city which was more immediately 
under government influence than any other 
Irish town, show how consistently the 
unhappy policy of hostility was carried 
out. In the year 1343 the Deputy of the 
King's Justiciary granted permission to 
the mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty of 
Dublin to levy certain customs. The grant 
was stated to have been made in consider- 
ation of the good and free service hitherto 

Relations with the Native Population 77 

rendered by the citizens in resisting the 
malice of divers of the Irish enemies, 
warring against the King and his faithful 
people. In the year 1355 Edward III. 
granted to the mayor and commonalty 
of Dublin one hundred marks out of the 
rent due to the Crown in consideration of 
their having aided Thomas de Rokeby, 
Justiciary of Ireland, and his army while 
at Wicklow, making war upon O'Byrne and 
his sept, and divers other powerful Irish 
of Leinster in combination with him. Other 
grants were made by the same monarch 
in recognition of services rendered by the 
citizens in resisting attacks of ' Irish 
enemies." A century later we find the 
existence of similar hostility between the 
citizens and their Irish neighbours. A 
memorandum in the Dublin Records states 
that no business was transacted in the 
Assembly on the fourth Friday after 
Michaelmas, 1467, as the Mayor, Bailiffs 
and Commons of the city were in O'Byrne's 
country with the Lord Deputy. Another 
memorandum states that business was not 
transacted in the Assembly on the fourth 

78 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Friday after Easter in the year 1468, 
because the Mayor, Bailiffs and Commons 
of the city were engaged in a hostile incur- 
sion upon O'Conor's country (Offaly) under 
the command of the Lord Deputy. 

Some years previously the Dublin As- 
sembly had banished Irish people from the 
city. At a meeting of the Assembly held 
in July 1454 it was ordained that " all 
manner of men of Irish blood and women, 
that is to say, Irish nuns, Irish clerks, and 
Irish journeymen, Irish apprentices, Irish 
servants, and Irish beggars, men, women 
and children, also all manner of Irish house- 
holders, except all they that hath been 
twelve years dwelling within the said city, 
that they and every of them avoid by this 
day four weeks." Those that should re- 
main in the city after that date were to be 
subject to the penalties of forfeiture of 
goods and chattels and imprisonment. 

At the same Assembly meeting it was 
further ordained that " no manner of 
man dwelling within the said city take no 
Irish apprentices nor Irish servants from 
this day forward upon the pain of forty 

Relations with the Native Population 79 

shillings as often as it may be found." 
These ordinances, however, do not seem to 
have been rigidly enforced. During the 
decades immediately succeeding this year 
the names of several Irishmen appear as 
holders of office in the city or as freemen. 

The charter granted by Henry V. in the 
first year of his reign to the citizens of 
Limerick specially directed that no one of 
Irish blood or nation should be mayor, or 
exercise any other office within the city ; 
and that no person should take or maintain 
any man or child of Irish blood and nation as 
apprentice, on pain of losing his franchise. 

A charter granted by Henry VI. to the 
citizens of Waterford forbade any lieu- 
tenant or other lord to bring into that city 
any Irish enemies, English rebels, or other 
ill-governed horse or foot-men to lodge 
there, except such as the mayor and bailiffs 
might be able to rule and govern, and who 
could victual themselves with their own 
money. The well known bye-laws of 
the Galway Council forbidding that any 
person should bring any Irishman " to 
brage or boste upon the towne " and that 

8o Municipal Government in Ireland 

neither O' nor Mac should " strutte ne 
swaggere thro' the streets of Gallway " 
were made at a period somewhat later than 
that under review. 

Even commercial relations between the 
townsmen and the people of the country 
districts seem to have been prohibited. 
Liberty to trade with the native population 
was an exceptional privilege. There is a 
writ or mandate of Edward III., dated 
1374, on record addressed to the senes- 
chals and sheriffs of Wexford and Kilkenny 
commanding them to proclaim that he had 
granted to the mayor and citizens of 
Waterford, that every person of the district 
aforesaid, wishing to go to the city of 
Waterford, with corn and other victuals 
to be sold there, should be permitted to pass 
freely and without disturbance. The bur- 
gesses of Youghal were the recipients of a 
charter in the year 1404 which conferred 
upon them a licence to treat with rebels. 
Ten years later they received a similar 
charter extending the period of treating 
with rebels. Henry IV. granted to the 
sovereign and commonalty of the town of 

Relations with the Native Population 81 

Rosse (New Ross) the privilege of selling 
all kinds of victuals to the Irish enemies, 
as well in time of peace as of war. 

These are but a few illustrations of the 
policy imposed by the central authority 
and adopted by the civic councils with 
regard to the native Irish population. 
Fortunately for the welfare of both the 
townsmen and the clansmen that policy 
was not carried out with extreme rigidity, 
Irishmen finding their way to some extent 
into civic life and industry and rising to 
positions of eminence therein, but the 
policy was persisted in sufficiently to 
perpetuate a line of cleavage between the 
English settlers and the Irish people, with 
the result that at a later period the former 
were left weak and helpless and isolated in 
the hands of a government who ruthlessly 
destroyed the industry and trade upon 
which their welfare and very existence 



The constitutions of Irish municipal 
bodies underwent little change during the 
century covered by the reigns of the Tudor 
sovereigns. The charters granted during 
this period were as a rule similar in effect 
to those granted in the earlier period. One 
feature, however, which characterises many 
of the charters calls for some comment. It 
was a clause of incorporation, whereby the 
mayor, burgesses and commonalty of a 
number of Irish towns were created bodies 
corporate with perpetual succession. The 
legal effect of this clause of incorporation 
was that these corporate bodies became 
persona in the eyes of the law. The 
mayor, burgesses, and commonalty could 
henceforth plead and be impleaded in 
Courts of Justice in their corporate capacity 
like ordinary individuals. As incorporated 

bodies they became entitled to acquire 

The Tudor Period 83 

and dispose of real property, a privilege 
from which these urban communities would 
seem to have been debarred since the year 
1495, when the Act known as " Poyning's 
Law " was passed. 

No Act specifically disenabling Irish 
municipal bodies from acquiring and dealing 
with land appears amongst the statutes 
of the Irish Parliament. In the year 1391 
an Act was passed by the English Parlia- 
ment which extended the provisions of the 
Statute of Mortmain to guilds, fraternities, 
and to the Mayors, Bailiffs and Commons 
x)f cities and towns in England. " And 
moreover it is assented," recites the Act] 
" because Mayors, Bailiffs, and Commons 
of Cities, Boroughs, and Towns which have 
a perpetual commonalty, and others which 
have offices perpetual, be as perpetual as 
people of religion, that from henceforth 
they shall not purchase to them, and to 
their Commons or office, upon pain con- 
tained in the said Statute De Religiosis." 
This Act, accordingly, disenabled municipal 
bodies in England, from acquiring lands 
thenceforth. No similar Act appears in 

84 Municipal Government in Ireland 

the records of the Irish Parliament. 
Poyning's Law of the year 1495 would,, 
however, have had the effect of making this 
law apply to municipal bodies in Ireland. 
The incorporation clause which appears in 
several of the Tudor charters would, there- 
fore, have been of importance to the citizens 
and burgesses incorporated. 

In a charter granted to the burgesses of 
Youghal by Queen Elizabeth in the first 
year of her reign, the corporation of that 
town were empowered to purchase lands 
to themselves in fee, provided the same 
should not exceed the yearly value of 6. 
The sovereign and commons of Kinsale, 
under a confirmatory charter granted by 
Queen Elizabeth in the thirty-first year of 
her reign received a regrant of certain 
lands, and were empowered to take and 
acquire other lands to a value not exceeding 
30 a year. A number of Irish corporate 
bodies received grants of lands belonging 
to religious houses which were confiscated 
by the Crown during the sixteenth century. 

The other feature of the Tudor charters 
which calls for remark is that a number of 

The Tudor Period 85 

them contain a grant of the privilege of 
holding a " Court of Pie Poudre " in connec- 
tion with the fairs and markets thereby 
granted. This interesting Court will be 
referred to at a later stage of this work. 

The list of civic officers in Irish towns 
had considerably lengthened by this time. 
A formidable list of functionaries appears 
in Letters Patent of Queen Elizabeth in 
the ninth year of her reign whereby the 
citizens of Waterford were granted the 
privilege of electing their mayor and bailiffs 
annually, and a recorder, town clerk, sword- 
bearer, marshal, searcher, water-bailiff, 
gauger, constable, sergeants at mace, and 
other officers and ministers usual and 

The sixteenth century was marked by two 
important events which were destined to 
have a disastrous influence upon the welfare 
of Irish towns. One was the Reformation. 
The other was the general subjection of 
Ireland to the power of the English Crown. 

The former of these events introduced 
into Irish towns a new source of discord, 
a new line of cleavage between the colonists 

86 Municipal Government in Ireland 

and the native population before which 
even racial differences paled into insigni- 
ficance. The colonists and the native Irish 
population were gradually merging inta 
one body. Irishmen were flocking into the 
towns in greater numbers and achieving 
high places in civic and commercial life. 
Intermarriages between the old and the 
new population were becoming more fre- 
quent. Irish customs were spreading in the 
towns. The Irish language was being 
adopted in the towns and spoken largely 
even in Dublin itself. The process of 
fusion was gradually taking place, when a 
new check to the growth of a united Irish 
nation was caused by the introduction of 
religious differences into the country, and 
a fateful heritage of religious dissension, 
bequeathed to modern times. 

. The assumption by Henry VIII. with the 
consent of the Irish Parliament of the title 
of " King of Ireland " in place of that of 
" Lord of Ireland " with which his prede- 
cessors had been contented, symbolised 
the second great feature of the century 
the growth of the royal power in Ireland. 

The Tudor Period 87 

It was Henry's policy to become King in 
fact as well as in name a policy which 
was ably carried out by his immediate 
descendants. In the fifteenth century 
English power in Ireland had reached its 
lowest ebb, and the Pale had become 
reduced to its narrowest limits. The self- 
governing towns with few exceptions were 
all but independent. The strong hand of 
the Tudors which lay heavily upon England 
crushed out any vestiges of independence 
in Ireland. Devastating wars in which 
Irish nobles and feudal lords of Anglo- 
Norman lineage were reduced to one com- 
mon level of subjection and impotence 
marked the progress of the century.. 

The loss in political power which char- 
acterised alike the towns of Ireland, the 
feudal lords and the Irish nobles was 
accompanied by a loss of material welfare. 
The wars of Elizabeth's reign entailed great 
destruction of wealth and delivered a rude 
blow at Irish prosperity. In the vivid 
pages of Mrs. Green's book " The Making 
of Ireland and its Undoing " we read of 
the wonderful prosperity of the country 

88 Municipal Government in Ireland 

during the fourteenth and fifteenth cen- 
turies a prosperity due to its great natural 
resources and to the industry and enterprise 
of its inhabitants, natives and colonists. 
The wealth of the country attracted the 
greedy eyes of English landowners, mer- 
chants and officials. The lucrative home 
and foreign trade which had been built up 
in Ireland could not be allowed to continue. 
Ireland's gain was regarded as England's 
loss. The exponents of English commercial 
policy urged the destruction of that trade. 
That the welfare of their own kith and kin 
in Ireland, the English colonists, depended 
upon the continuance of that trade mattered 
not. By leaving England and settling 
down in Ireland they had apparently lost 
all claim to consideration. In matters 
of trade rivalry the native Irishman and 
the English colonist were henceforth treated 
as one. The natural result was that many 
of the towns threw in their lot with the 
native population in the struggle for life 
and freedom. In a work dealing primarily 
with the system of municipal government 
in Ireland we cannot enter into a detailed 

The Tudor Period 89 

account of the attempted destruction of 
Irish trade. For particulars the reader is 
referred to the authority mentioned. The 
combined result of the subjection of the 
whole country to the English Crown and 
of the impoverishment of the towns was 
that the civic communities were no longer 
in a position to bargain with the Crown. 
The work done by the Tudor sovereigns 
enured to the profit of the Stuarts. They 
liad an easy task in directing the future 
municipal policy of Irish towns. 


The reign of James I. marks the be- 
ginning of a new era in Irish municipal 
history. The whole course of municipal 
government in Ireland received a new 
direction. It was forced into a new channel 
and diverted from reaching its true and 
proper end. The very wells of municipal 
life from which should have issued forth a 
pure and copious stream to fertilise the 
field of municipal endeavour were poisoned 
and there issued forth a sluggish, stagnant 
stream poisoning everything on its way and 
drying up before it had run its course. 

In the opening pages of this book it was 
stated that it was part of England's policy 
towards Ireland to use the town as an 
instrument for extending the sway and 
maintaining the influence of the conquering 
race in this country. For a second time 
in Irish history does that policy spring 
into prominence. James I. deliberately 

Town Planting in Ulster 91 

used the town as an instrument for 
extending the royal power in Ireland 
with a large measure of success. An 
unrivalled opportunity was presented to 
him when at one fell swoop a considerable 
portion of Ulster, comprising the territory 
of six counties, fell into his hands by the 
forfeiture under English law of the lands 
ruled over by the scions of the princely 
houses of O'Neill and O'Donnell, attainted 
for crimes which they had never com- 
mitted. Here was a large extent of virgin 
soil whereon to work. 

Shortly after the flight of the Earls a 
Commission was appointed by King James 
to consider and report how this vast terri- 
tory comprising the counties of Tyrone, 
" Coleraine," Donegal, Fermanagh, Armagh 
and Cavan could best be planted. After 
due deliberation the Commissioners laid 
down certain general grounds to be observed 
in the plantation. The whole territory 
they recommended should be divided into 
lots of 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 acres 
respectively. Every lot or proportion was 
to be made a parish, glebe lands at the rate 

92 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of 60 acres per 1,000 being set aside for 
the support of an incumbent. The pro- 
portions were then to be distributed amongst 
suitable English or Scotch " undertakers," 
officials serving in Ireland, and well affected 
natives. The king having made choice 
of the persons, it was recommended that 
the proportions should be distributed by 
lot, in order to avoid jealousy amongst the 

The Commissioners then proceeded to 
plan out the territory, county by county. 
Starting with Tyrone they recommended 
that 19,000 acres be reserved for the 
Primate of Armagh and the bishops of 
Clogher and Derry, 6,125 acres for incum- 
bents' glebes, and 1062 J acres for the College 
of^Dublin (the newly established university) 
and that 69,000 acres be allotted to under- 
takers, 54 in number, leaving a residue of 
2,750 acres. Having thus provided for the 
Church and the undertakers, the Commis- 
sioners reported that they held it con- 
venient that there should be five corporate 
towns or boroughs erected in that county, 
\vith markets and fairs and other reason- 

Town Planting in Ulster 93, 

able liberties, and with power to send, 
burgesses to Parliament namely, at. 
Dungannon, Clogher, Omagh, Loughin- 
solin and Mount joy. They suggested that 
there should be a levy or press of tradesmen 
or artificers out of England to people these 
towns. 500 acres of land were to be 
allotted to Dungannon, 375 acres apiece 
to the other four towns, and the remaining, 
750 acres assigned for the maintenance of 
a free school to be erected at Mounjoy. 

With regard to the disposal of the native 
population they recommended that some 
should be planted upon the bishop's lands 
and the glebes of the parsons, doubtless, 
with a view to their spiritual regeneration, 
some upon the lands of Irish freeholders^ 
and others upon the lands of such of the 
" servitors " or officials who should be 
unable to plant their lands with English 
or Scotch tenants. The " swordsmen " 
were to be transplanted into waste lands 
in Connaught and Munster and dispersed. 

The plantation of the other counties on 
similar lines was recommended. In the 
county of " Coleraine " two corporate towns 

94 Municipal Government in Ireland 

or boroughs were to be erected with power 
to send burgesses to Parliament. Seven 
corporate towns were to be erected in 
Donegal. Fermanagh and Cavan were each 
to have three corporate towns, and Armagh 
four. Thus twenty-four corporate towns 
in all were provided for. After the towns 
should have forty houses divided amongst 
forty families they were to be incorporated 
and authorised by charter to send two 
burgesses each to Parliament. 

The scheme of plantation thus outlined 
by the Commissioners appointed by King 
James was ultimately carried out with 
some modifications. According to the 
State papers of the period difficulties were 
experienced in the removal of the native 
population. In the Calendar of the Carew 
Manuscripts there is recorded a document, 
dated July, 1611, embodying a communi- 
cation from the Lord Deputy of Ireland 
to the English Privy Council, with the reply 
of the latter body. The Lord Deputy 
writes : 

' That experience tells the undertakers 
that it will be almost impossible for them 

Town Planting in Ulster 95 

to perform the work they have undertaken, 
if the natives be removed according to the 
.general project, for when they are gone 
there will be neither victuals nor carriage 
within twenty miles, and in some counties 
more. Therefore, I hold my first proposi- 
tion, that to remove the principal men the 
first year and the inferior tenants one year 
after, as the plantation shall increase, so as 
it be done within three or four years will be 

The answer of the Lords of the 
English Privy Council was as follows : 

"We are of opinion that, notwithstanding 
former instructions for the removal of the 
natives from the lands of the plantation, 
the swordsmen be removed as conveniently 
as may be, who may have leave to carry 
such followers as may be encouraged to be 
removed with them, such labourers of the 
natives as the undertakers are willing to 
have moved for clearing lands for British 
families ; but such other natives as the 
undertakers desire to keep for this year, 
you may tolerate for this year, only without 
expectation of further favour." 

96 Municipal Government in Ireland 

In the following month a warrant signed 
by the Lord Deputy and other members 
of the Irish Privy Council for the removal of 
the native population of the County of 
Donegal was issued to the Sheriff of that 
county. After reciting that many natives 
had remained on as tenants to British 
undertakers, the " Warrant " proceeds : 

" In consideration whereof, and to take 
away all false hopes and conceits from them 
both, we have thought it requisite to charge 
and authorise you forthwith after the end 
of this present harvest and inning of their 
corn, to remove the natives of that county 
into the proportions allotted to them in the 
barony of K., and the rest of the inferior 
sort, to whom no lands have been assigned 
into the Bishops' and servitors' lands, in 
no less numbers than the same will con- 
veniently bear, both in respect of the grazing 
and the manureance. And concerning the 
surplus of the common people, if any 
remain that cannot be disposed of, you are 
to admonish and strictly to intimate unto 
them by proclamation that they must 
prepare themselves to depart with their 

Town Planting in Ulster 97 

goods and chattels, at or before the first 
day of May next, into what other parts of 
this realm they please, where they may find 
best conditions of being, according to the 
tenor and effect of a former proclamation 
heretofore published." 

In pursuance of the recommendations of 
the Commissioners and of the instructions 
of the English Privy Council a complete 
change was effected in the ownership of the 
soil of this extensive territory, comprising 
six counties of Ulster. English and Scotch 
settlers undertook the plantation of indivi- 
dual " proportions," planting their lands 
as far as possible with English and Scotch 
settlers. Government officials, or " ser- 
vitors " as they were called, were rewarded 
with grants of a number of the lots. They 
were required to take the oath of supremacy, 
and conform themselves to the established 
religion. Some well affected Protestant 
Irish received royal grants of a limited 
number of lots. A remnant of the old Irish 
population were permitted to remain as 
" hewers of wood and drawers of water " 
for the new settlers. 

98 Municipal Government in Ireland 

To hold this large area which had passed 
under the complete domination of the 
Crown an extensive scheme of town planting 
took place. The Commissioners had re- 
commended that twenty-four towns should 
be erected, some on the sites of old Irish 
towns as at Deny, others on virgin soil at 
places to be chosen by themselves. Within 
a few years, accordingly, the nuclei of a 
number of towns sprang up, and charters 
incorporating the new inhabitants were 
granted by King James with a lavish hand. 

The charters granted to the Ulster towns 
were nearly all uniform in plan. They 
provided that there should be one chief 
officer, variously styled sovereign, provost, 
warden, or portreeve, " Free Burgesses " 
generally twelve in number and a com- 
monalty. Under the charters the " com- 
monalty " were to include all the inhabi- 
tants of the place incorporated together 
with such others as the chief officer and 
free burgesses should admit to the freedom 
of the town. The sovereign or other chief 
officer was to be annually elected ; the 
" Free Burgesses " were to hold office for 

Town Planting in Ulster 99 

life. The power of electing the chief officer, 
the " Free Burgesses " and the more 
important officials of the new corporations 
was vested in the sovereign or other chief 
officer and the " Free Burgesses," who thus 
by charter were made close corporations, 
filling vacancies in their body by self- 
election. The only functions in which the 
commonalty were authorised to join were 
the election of inferior officers and the 
making of bye-laws. Power to hold a 
Court of Record with jurisdiction limited 
generally to five marks was conferred. The 
grant of the privilege of holding fairs and 
markets was likewise made. Each newly 
incorporated town was further empowered 
to send two burgesses to the Irish House 
of Commons. The election of Parliamen- 
tary representatives was vested in the 
chief officer and ' ' Free Burgesses. " The first 
sovereign or other chief officer and the 
" Free Burgesses " were in some, if not 
in all, cases nominated by the Crown. 

Thus there was established in possession 
of the lands of Ulster a new population, 
alien in race, alien in sympathy, alien in 

ioo Municipal Government in Ireland 

religion from the old inhabitants. For 
the better securing of the newly planted 
district a network of towns was formed 
wherein complete control of the civic des- 
tinies was vested in small, select bodies, 
bound to the Crown by the closest ties of 
interest and religion. And so arose the 
problem which generation after generation 
of statesmen have failed to solve, that 
problem which is known the world over 
as the " Ulster Question/' 

The charters granted to the towns of 
the newly planted district differed very 
materially from the charters hitherto 
granted to Irish towns. In the older 
charters the rights and privileges granted 
were conferred upon the whole body of 
citizens, burgesses, or commonalty, with no 
distinction in favour of any particular 
class of the inhabitants. The new charters, 
while professing to incorporate all the 
inhabitants of the incorporated district, 
singled out small select bodies of the 
inhabitants under the name of " Free 
Burgesses," in whom together with the 
chief officer, important powers were vested. 

Town Planting in Ulster 101 

The number of " Free Burgesses " was 
generally fixed at twelve. These thirteen 
favoured individuals in each corporate 
town were endowed with the power of elect- 
ing the " Sovereign " or other chief officer, 
and of filling vacancies which should occur 
in the number of " Free Burgesses." They 
were also empowered to appoint the 
Recorder, Sheriffs, Town Clerk and other 
important civic officers. In the " Free 
Burgesses " and the chief officer was also 
vested the important function of returning 
two members to the Irish House of Com- 
mons. The only functions in which the 
general body of the inhabitants were per- 
mitted to join were, as a rule, the election 
of inferior officers and the making of bye- 
laws. The new corporations were appa- 
rently designed with the object of in- 
fluencing civic policy through the small 
select bodies thus created, and through 
them of influencing opinion in the Irish 
House of Commons. That such was the 
object was made manifest by the subse- 
quent history of these corporate towns. 
A few years before the reform of Irish 

IO2 Municipal Government in Ireland 

corporate bodies which was effected by the 
Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act of 
1840 an inquiry was instituted into the 
state of municipal corporations in Ireland. 
In the course of that inquiry a report was 
made upon the corporate bodies estab- 
lished in Ulster in connection with the 
plantation of that province. In that report 
it is stated as follows : " The creation of 
these corporations appears plainly to have 
been designed to increase, in the new 
Parliament, the influence of the Crown, 
through the persons who had received those 
large possessions from its bounty, and to 
give to the settlers, who formed the heads 
and free burgesses of the new corporations, 
or rather to the owner of the soil on which 
the borough was created, direct influence 
and power in the legislature. They were, 
in fact, close boroughs, exclusively Pro- 
testant, and sending into Parliament a 
large body of new members whose presence 
King James required to control the party, 
then adverse to him, and possessing con- 
siderable power in the Irish House of 

Town Planting in Ulster 103 

In the scheme of plantation outlined by 
the Commissioners it was proposed that 
allotments of land varying from 200 to 800 
acres should be made to each of the cor- 
porate towns to be established. In the 
scheme as actually carried out this portion 
of the plan was seriously modified. The 
newly incorporated bodies received no lands 
in their corporate capacity. Small grants 
of land were, however, made to individual 
members thereof. In some cases, as in that 
of Killybegs, the charter of incorporation 
made a grant of lands to the person named 
as the first head of the corporate body on 
condition that he should make small grants 
thereout to a certain number of settlers, 
and provide a space for a schoolhouse, a 
space for a church, and a space for a com- 
mon. In other charters of incorporation 
no such grants were specified, but pro- 
vision was made in separate charters for 
small allotments to individual inhabitants. 
In this respect the new corporations differed 
signally from the old corporations, many of 
which enjoyed extensive lands. The lack of 
corporate lands had a serious effect upon the 

IO4 Municipal Government in Ireland 

destinies of the newly incorporated bodies. 
Referring to this feature of the new 
corporations the Report already alluded 
to states : " Most of the corporations, as 
such, had therefore no property, save in 
the few instances in which a small and 
precarious income was derived from a 
grant of the tolls of new fairs or markets ; 
and the new communities, destitute of 
trade, enjoying (with the exception of the 
owners of the small tenements before 
alluded to) no land of their own, and con- 
stituting in fact, infant colonies in a country 
just subdued after a formidable rebellion, 
the result of which was to make the whole 
planted territory the property of the 
Crown and its grantees, became, in their 
very origin, dependents upon the bounty 
and patronage of the owner of the soil. 
If their institution be considered as a 
political expedient for securing, in the 
Irish House of Commons, direct influence 
to the Crown through the medium of the 
patrons all of whom were grantees of the 
forfeited estates, and were bound, by 
recent obligation and by the strongest 

Town Planting in Ulster 105 

interest, to sustain the British sway, they 
were certainly adapted for that purpose. 
If they were intended as municipal bodies, 
framed or calculated to watch over and 
advance the trade, the wealth, and the 
civilisation of the communities over which 
they presided, or to provide for these 
communities a local system of sound self- 
government, they were wholly unsuited 
for such a purpose, and in no one instance 
has any of them achieved it. On the 
contrary, their dependence upon the patron, 
which was probably one of the matters 
deemed essential in the plan of settlement 
of which they formed a part, presented 
(if they existed for any other purpose than 
that of political influence) an original 
vice in their institution, rendering them 
from their commencement liable to that 
individual control, which, as far as we can 
trace their operation as corporate bodies, 
made them, not only in the election of 
representatives in Parliament, but in the 
exercise of every corporate function, the 
mere creatures and instruments of the 
patrons of the day." 

io6 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Grafted upon the original scheme pre- 
pared by King James's Commissioners was 
a special scheme for the plantation of the 
county of " Coleraine." Some worthy 
citizens of London saw in the proposed 
plantation a unique opportunity of ex- 
ploiting to their own advantage the great 
natural resources of Ulster. The matter 
was brought under the notice of the 
Common Council of the City of London 
with the result that negotiations were 
entered into between the Crown and the 
Common Council with a view to the plant- 
ation of a portion of the forfeited lands. 
An agreement was entered into between the 
Crown and the City of London whereby 
the citizens undertook the plantation of 
considerable tracts of territory which com- 
prised what was then called the county of 
" Coleraine/' In pursuance of this agree- 
ment a charter was granted by King James 
in the eleventh year of his reign whereby 
this territory was granted to a new cor- 
poration called " The Society of the 
Governor and Assistants, London, of the 
New Plantation in Ulster," popularly styled 

Town Planting in Ulster 107 

"The Irish Society." The lands thus 
granted were disposed of by the Society 
as follows : The towns of Derry and 
Coleraine, and two large tracts of land 
adjoining them, were reserved to the " Irish 
Society," to be held and managed by them ; 
and the rest of the county (henceforth 
known as " Londonderry ") was granted 
out to twelve companies of the Corporation 
of London, namely, those of the goldsmiths, 
grocers, fishmongers, ironmongers, mercers, 
merchant tailors, haberdashers, cloth- 
workers, skinners, vintners, drapers, and 

Previously to the incorporation of the 
" Irish Society," articles of agreement were 
entered into between the Crown and the 
City of London, specifying the terms upon 
which the citizens were to undertake this 
portion of the New Plantation of Ulster. 
Among the stipulations of these articles 
were the following : 

A sum of 20,000 was to be contributed 
by the city, 15,000 of which was to be 
expended in the Plantation, and 5,000 
in the " clearing " of private interests. 

io8 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Two hundred houses were to be built at 
Deny, and room was to be left for building 
three hundred more. Four thousand acres, 
adjacent to Deny were to be " laid there- 
unto " bog and banen mountain to be 
no part thereof, but to go as waste for the 
city. One hundred houses were to be 
built at Coleraine, and room was to be left 
for two hundred more. Three thousand 
acres were to be " laid thereunto." 

The sum originally intended to be laid 
out upon the plantation was 20,000, but 
this sum proving insufficient, a sum of 
40,000 was ultimately contributed in cer- 
tain proportions by the twelve companies. 

Two charters were granted by King 
James to Coleraine in the eleventh year of 
his reign. Under the second of these it 
was granted and ordained " that all in- 
habitants of the aforesaid town of Cole- 
raine, and all inhabitants within the juris- 
diction and liberty of the same town of 
Coleraine, and their successors from hence- 
forth for ever," should form a body cor- 
porate, " by the name of the Mayor and 
Aldermen and Burgesses of the Town of 

Town Planting in Ulster 109 

Coleraine, within the Province of Ulster, 
in the Kingdom of Ireland." The charter 
created no special class of "Free Bur- 
gesses " as in the other Ulster corpora- 
tions. Burgesses were directed by the 
charter to be elected by the mayor, alder- 
men, and the rest of the common council 
" out of the better and more honest free- 
men of the town aforesaid, or of the 
inhabitants within the liberty of the same." 
The charter provided that the Mayor should 
take the Oath of office and the Oath of 
supremacy, thus rendering Roman Catholics 
ineligible for that office. 

Londonderry received a charter of 
incorporation from King James in the same 
year. The operation of this charter was, 
however, destined to be seriously impeded 
owing to the occurrence of difficulties be- 
tween the Crown and the " Irish Society." 
Allegations were made that the articles 
of agreement entered into between the 
Crown and the City of London were not 
complied with by the " Irish Society." 
In the year 1634 the Court of Star Chamber 
imposed a fine of 70,000 on the Corporation 

no Municipal Government in Ireland 

of London and the " Irish Society." After 
various proceedings which included the 
revocation of the Charter establishing the 
" Irish Society," the sequestration of the 
county of Londonderry, and the levying of 
rents to the King's use, and the grant of a 
charter by Oliver Cromwell in the year 
1656, the matter was finally laid to rest by 
the grant of a new charter by Charles II. 
in the year 1662. 

This charter ordains " that all citizens 
and inhabitants of the City of Londonderry 
and they who thereafter shall be citizens 
and inhabitants of said city, shall be a body 
corporate, by the name of the mayor and 
commonalty and citizens of the city of 
Londonderry." The " Irish Society " were 
endowed with important powers with regard 
to the government of the city. Under this 
charter Londonderry was governed until 
the year 1840. 



The increase in the power of the Crown 
in Ireland which was the main object of 
the municipal scheme embodied in the 
plan of the New Plantation in Ulster was 
to be still further promoted by the creation 
of new boroughs in the other provinces. 
No Parliament had been held in Ireland 
since the twenty-seventh year of Queen 
Elizabeth's reign. Reasons of state re- 
quired that a new Parliament should be 
soon assembled in Ireland. Amongst other 
matters the attainder of the Earls of Tyrone 
and Tyrconnell and of other chief lords 
of Ulster had to be confirmed, and the 
estates of the undertakers in Munster and 
of the new undertakers in Ulster had to be 
established by Act of Parliament. The 
State papers of the period afford conclusive 
evidence that active preparations were 
made to ensure that in both Houses of the 

H2 Municipal Government in Ireland 

new Parliament a majority in favour of the 
Crown should be secured. 

Amongst the documents included in the 
collection of the Carew MSS. there is one 
under date 1611 which is endorsed in 
Carew's handwriting as follows : " The 
counties of Ireland and how many boroughs 
there are in every county that have been of 
old and must be erected to send burgesses 
to Parliament." From this document we 
learn that Munster was to have nineteen 
boroughs represented in the new Parliament, 
whereof eight were to be erected ; Leinster 
twenty-seven boroughs, whereof three and 
the University were to be erected ; Con- 
naught six boroughs, whereof four were to 
be erected ; and Ulster twenty-four 
boroughs (the number provided for in the 
scheme of the Commissioners already men- 
tioned) whereof twenty-two were to be 
erected. Thus, seventy-six boroughs in 
all were to be represented in the new 
Parliament, each by two burgesses. Sixty- 
six knights of the shire were to represent 
the counties in the Lower House, two for 
each of thirty-three counties (the county 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 113 

of " Crosse " in Tipperary being represented 
separately from the county of Tipperary). 
Of these thirty-three counties, several had 
been formed since the date of the last 
Parliament. The constitution of the Lower 
House was accordingly fixed at the number 
of 218 members, namely, 66 knights of the 
shire and 152 burgesses. The document 
concludes with the statement that the 
Higher House consists of Lords spiritual 
and temporal to the number of 44. 

In the same collection of MSS. appears 
another document of singular interest and 
importance, throwing as it does great light 
upon the real object which was kept in view 
in the creation of new municipal corpora- 
tions. It is a document signed " Arthur 
Chichester " the Lord Deputy and is 
endorsed as follows : " A roll of the names 
of the nobility, archbishops, etc., with the 
names of the shires, cities and towns of 
Ireland which are and may be enabled 
to send burgesses to Parliament." The 
document starts by enumerating the names 
of the lay and spiritual members of the 
Upper House 44 in all. The comment 

H4 Municipal Government in Ireland 

upon these members is as follows : " Of 
these 44 lords spiritual and temporal, we 
may assure ourselves of the 19 bishops, 
of the temporal lords three are under age 
and five Protestants, and so we shall sway 
the Upper House by seven voices." The 
Knights of the Shire are stated as 66 in 
number. " Of these three score and six 
knights," the document continues, " we 
may expect 33." The cities of Ireland are 
next dealt with. " The ancient cities of 
Ireland will return Protestants, as we con- 
ceive, Dublin, i ; Waterford, Limerick, 
Cork, cities newly created, Kilkenny, Derry, 
2." Next in review come the Irish towns : 

" Ancient borough towns which are also 
counties : Drogheda, Gallowaye, Knocke- 

" Ancient boroughs which are not coun- 
ties, but send burgesses to the Parliament : 
Kinsale Trim Dundalk 

Youghal Athboy Carlingford 

Kilmallock Navan Swords 

Rosse Kells Callan 

Wexford Downpatrick Enistioge 
Dungarvan Dinglecoush Thomastone 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 115 

Athenry Atherdie Clonmel 

Cashel Naas Kildare 

Mullingar Phillipstown Maryborough 

" Boroughs newly created with power 
to send burgesses to Parliament : Athlone, 
i ; Cavan, i ; Gauran." 

' We find that all the cities and towns 
before named sent burgesses to the last 
Parliament held in the time of Sir John 
Perrot's government (the city of Derry, 
and the towns of Athlone, Cavan, and 
Gauran excepted) which are since that time 
created and enabled to send burgesses like- 
wise. Out of these 40 corporations we may 
expect 28 Protestants and may hope for 
more, by reason many of them sent men 
of that religion the last time." A list is 
then given of " boroughs to be erected and 
enabled to send burgesses to Parliament, 
if it please the King." Arranged according 
to provinces they were as follows : 

ULSTER (20). 

Newry Limavady Belfast 

Newtown Dungannon Coleraine 

n6 Municipal Government in Ireland 


Mount joy 

Lough Rawre 

Rathmullen Enniskillen 


Lismore Tullagh Baltymore 

Tralee Mallowe Bandonbridge 

Ennis Askeaton 


Sligo Roscommon Castlebar 



Carlow Kilbeggan Gallon 

and the University of Dublin. 

Then follows the pertinent remark : " From 
these new corporations we may expect 
Protestant burgesses. And so the Lower 
House consisting of 218 knights and bur- 
gesses we may expect 123 Protestants and 
then we shall exceed them by 28 voices." 
Another document from the same collec- 
tion of State papers deserves to be quoted, 
showing as it does the systematic way in 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 117 

which the constituencies were manipulated 
for the purpose of returning members in 
the interest of the Crown. It is intituled 
" A Certificate of the Vice President's of 
Munster for returning Knights and Bur- 
gesses to the Parliament out of that 
Province addressed to the Lord Deputy " 
and reads as follows : 

" According to your direction I have 
called to my assistance suchjof the Council 
of the Province as are now^resident in this 
city, and have entered into consideration 
who are the Protestant knights and bur- 
gesses meetest to be chosen in each county 
to serve in Parliament, which I here certify, 
being confident every county will make 
choice of one recusant, who will be at their 
own disposition ; and although I return 
three for a county, yet it will be hard to 
get one of them to be knight of the shire, 
except the other two nominated join their 
strength and voices for the election of the 
third man, and that good care be had in 
choosing meet sheriffs, and the powerful 
gentry of the county beforehand written 
unto by you and the undertakers dealt 

n8 Municipal Government in Ireland 

withal to make more freeholders to increase 
voices for that election. For the old bor- 
oughs there is hope to get one burgess 
returned out of each of the towns of 
Youghall, Dungarvan and Dinglecuishe, 
and all the rest desperate. For the new 
intended corporations, if they be enabled by 
charter to send burgesses to the Parliament, 
I am sure they will be wrought to return 
those I have named, or any other the State 
shall appoint, and the number of them will 
appear by the underwritten certificate." 
The preparations for the packing of the 
new Parliament having been completed, 
Parliament was summoned to meet at the 
Castle of Dublin in the year 1613. A 
careful selection of the members summoned 
to attend the Upper House was made, and 
similar care was exercised in the issue of 
writs for the return of the burgesses. In- 
dignation was caused by the action of the 
government in thus attempting to influence 
opinion in both Houses of Parliament. 
That indignation found utterance in a 
dignified protest signed by certain of the 
nobility of Ireland and submitted to Sir 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 119 

Arthur Chichester, the Lord Deputy. The 
signatories to the protest which took the 
form of a Petition were Lords Gormans- 
ton, David Rupe and Fermoy, Mount- 
garret t, Buttevante, Delvin, Slane, Trim- 
leston, Louth, Dunboyne and Cahyr. The 
petitioners complained of not being advised 
beforehand of the public Acts to be trans- 
mitted to the King. Many of the ancient 
nobility, they said, were not summoned 
to Parliament, while several new peers 
were summoned. With regard to the 
constitution of the Lower House, they 
complained, " First, that new corporations 
are created not only within the late plan- 
tations, but also elsewhere and many 
(if not most) of those since the summons of 
Parliament ; and clerks and others here, 
who have little or no estate in the kingdom, 
and in special within any of the corporations 
are to be returned as burgesses to have 
voice and place in Parliament. Secondly, 
the preposterous courses held by sheriffs 
and others of note in the election of knights, 
citizens and burgesses, the rejection of 
burgesses returned by ancient boroughs, 

I2O Municipal Government in Ireland 

and many of the ancient boroughs omitted, 
much to the amazement and discontent of 
the natives and inhabitants, who claimed 
by their right a better usage and fairer 
carriage in matters of this quality." 

The presence of an armed force in the 
neighbourhood of the place of meeting 
was another subject of complaint. With 
regard to this they stated : " Both they 
and we (that is, the members of the Lower 
and Upper Houses) may not but observe 
and fear the conceit that may be taken 
of the assurance of our loyalty, when in 
time of perfect peace such numbers of 
armed men are appointed to attend the 

With regard to the place appointed for 
the assembling of Parliament they naively 
add, " And the holding of Parliament in 
the principal fort and castle of the kingdom, 
and that in a part thereof where the powder 
and munition lieth under which will not 
only aggravate the former conceit of doubt 
and suspect, but also strike fear into the 
sitters by the late example of England, 
which they wish you to prevent." 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 121 

The Lord Deputy's answer in respect of 
the chief grievances formulated was as 
follows : " The new corporations were made 
by the King's express order, thinking it 
would be injurious to his good subjects 
of the new plantations in Ulster and other 
plantations in the realm to exclude them 
from having voices in his present assembly 
of Parliament, since the affairs therein 
treated concern the whole realm and their 
posterities. But if any of the charters have 
ensued since the summons of this Parlia- 
ment and not before, it was but the omis- 
sion of some of those that were long trusted 
with the expedition of that business, for 
the corporations of Ulster and others were 
set down, when the Lord Carew was here, 
by the King's own approbation. By like 
authority some other good plantations were 
thought meet to be incorporated in other 
parts of this kingdom ; as the King's 
bounty is common to all. The election 
of quality attending the state, and of some 
clerks likewise, is no new thing, neither 
was it ever hitherto excepted against. The 
House is to judge of the miscarriage of the 

122 Municipal Government in Ireland 

sheriffs and abuses committed in the elec- 
tions. Touching the ancient boroughs 
enabled to send burgesses, none are omitted 
to my knowledge. If any be, name them, 
and they shall have a writ of summons." 

The extent to which the Irish House of 
Commons in the Parliament of 1613 was 
flooded with members in the interest of the 
Crown can be best realised by comparing 
the number of members constituting it 
with the number of members returned to 
the previous Parliament held in the twenty- 
seventh year of Queen Elizabeth's reign. 
In that Parliament there were represented, 
according to Sir Arthur Chichester's enu- 
meration, only 36 cities and towns, which 
at the rate of two members each would 
give a representation of 72. From a docu- 
ment included in the Appendix to Dr. 
Lynch's " Feudal Baronies " we learn that 
there were 54 knights of the shire sum- 
moned to the same Parliament, thus giving 
a total representation in the Lower House 
of 126. During the period which elapsed 
since the summoning of this Parliament 
the number of counties had been increased 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 123 

to 33. There would, accordingly, as Sir 
Arthur Chichester, the Lord Deputy, had 
enumerated, have been 66 knights of the 
shire and 152 members representing 76 
cities and towns, making a total membership 
of 218, or nearly double that of the previous 

The hold of the Crown upon the province 
of Ulster was firmly secured by the network 
of towns planted throughout that province. 
In the other provinces the influence of the 
Crown was increased by the granting of 
charters to the " other good plantations " 
which were " thought meet to be incor- 
porated." The form of civic government 
set up in these towns suffered from the same 
defect as the Ulster corporations. In all 
of them the chief powers were vested in a 
small body consisting of the chief officer 
and a number of " Free Burgesess" (usually 
twelve) while the general body of inhabitants 
received but insignificant powers. The 
Council of Thirteen ruled in each town and 
elected the Parliamentary representatives. 

While the latter important function, 
namely, the election of members of 

124 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Parliament, was vested by charter in the 
chief officer and " Free Burgesses," the 
language of the charters would seem to 
imply that the general body of inhabitants 
were empowered to share to some extent 
in the civic government. 

The charters granted by King James I. 
to the towns newly incorporated by him 
in the tenth year of his reign, forty in 
number, professed to incorporate all the 
inhabitants of the respective towns. But 
the function of admitting " Freemen," 
or members of the commonalty, was 
specially reserved to the provost or other 
chief officer of the corporation and the 
"Free Burgesses." The charters commonly 
granted that all the inhabitants within 
the district should be a body corporate, 
and in a subsequent clause declared, that 
" all the inhabitants, and so many and 
such other men whom the provost and 
free burgesses shall admit to the freedom 
of the borough shall be of the commonalty." 

In the Report upon Municipal Corpor- 
ations in Ireland published in the year 1835, 
it was stated that the ruling bodies of these 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 125 

Corporations had almost uniformly acted 
upon this clause, as not giving to the in- 
habitants at large a right to admission, but 
as vesting in the chief officer and free 
burgesses a discretionary authority to 
bestow or withhold the franchise, and to 
determine who should be admitted, whether 
they were inhabitants or others. 

The question of the validity of this con- 
struction of the charters was raised in a 
case which came before the Court of King's 
Bench in Ireland in the year 1824. A gen- 
tleman named Abraham Martin, a resident 
inhabitant of the town of Sligo, applied 
for a writ of mandamus for the purpose of 
enforcing his admission to the freedom 
of the borough, a right which he claimed 
under the charter of King James I. as an 
inhabitant. The court considered that it 
appeared from the evidence adduced that 
the members of Corporation had been 
uniformly elected by the provost and free 
burgesses ; and as there was no precedent 
adduced of the admission of any person 
to the freedom of the borough as of right, 
by virtue of residence or inhabitancy, they 

126 Municipal Government in Ireland 

decided that the charter admitted of a 
construction consistent with the usage, and 
refused to grant a mandamus. 

Thus, limited as were the rights conferred 
upon the freemen, or commonalty of the 
the towns incorporated by King James I., 
the exercise of those rights was still further 
restricted by the policy of the ruling bodies 
to a small number of the inhabitants. 
Notwithstanding that the " inhabitants " 
were expressly incorporated as a corporate 
body by the charters, the chief officer 
and free burgesses whose own powers de- 
pended upon those charters deliberately, 
and apparently in open violation of the 
terms of the charters, withheld from the 
general body of the inhabitants the exercise 
of any corporate rights. It can only be 
concluded that this policy was carried out 
by the connivance of the government. 

The effect of the arrogation to the chief 
officer and free burgesses of the right to 
admit whom they pleased to the freedom 
of the boroughs was that the general grant 
of incorporation to the inhabitants was in 
effect annulled. In the course of time the 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 127 

freemen as a constituent part of these 
corporations disappeared in many Irish 
towns a result partly due to the policy 
of the chief officer and free burgesses of 
the towns in restricting admission to the 
freedom and partly to the apathy of the 
inhabitants in seeking to enforce a right 
which was of little practical value, as it 
conferred no voice in the election of the 
head of the corporation or of the governing 
body, nor in the election of the Parlia- 
mentary representatives. 


During the sixteenth century little pro- 
gress was made in enforcing upon the Irish 
people the Parliament-made religion of 
the Tudors. The Oath of Supremacy was 
by law required to be taken by the holders 
of public office. Absentees from divine 
service as by law established on Sundays 
and holidays were liable to a fine of twelve 
pence for each offence of omission. Queen 
Elizabeth, or her ministers, acting in her be- 

128 Municipal Government in Ireland 

half, wisely refrained from the rigid enforce- 
ment of these penal acts in a country which 
had never yet been thoroughly reduced to 
subjection. The non-observance of the 
statutory requirements was connived at 
in the cities and towns. 

When James I. ascended the throne of 
England, and ipso facto became King of 
Ireland, it was thought that the Catholic 
religion could be again openly practised 
in Ireland. But such was not to be. In 
July, 1605, a Proclamation was issued in 
Ireland in which the King declared his 
firm intention not to permit the exercise 
of any other religion than that which was 
" agreeable to God's Word, and established 
by the laws of the realm." He com- 
manded all his subjects duly to resort to 
their several parish churches to hear divine 
service on Sundays and holidays under 
pains and penalties as by law established. 
All Jesuits, seminary priests, and other 
priests owing allegiance to the See of Rome 
were ordered to leave the Kingdom of 
Ireland before the loth day of December 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 129 

A few months later a second Proclama- 
tion was published by the authority of 
Sir Arthur Chichester, the Lord Deputy, 
and the Privy Council of Ireland in which 
more severe penalties were threatened for 
failure to attend the services of the es- 
tablished church. 

Pursuant to this Proclamation mandates 
were issued in the King's name to sixteen 
of the chief aldermen and citizens of Dublin, 
requiring them to attend the Mayor to 
Christ Church to hear divine service and 
to present themselves there before the 
Lord Deputy and Council. The aldermen 
failed to attend, and accordingly were 
summoned before the Court of Castle 
Chamber, otherwise known as the Court of 
Star Chamber. On the first day nine of 
them were fined, six to the amount of 100 
each, and three 50 each. They were 
further sentenced to remain prisoners in the 
Castle during the Lord Deputy's and the 
Court's pleasure. The remainder of the 
party were likewise fined and imprisoned 
during pleasure. Proceedings were insti- 
tuted in the King's Bench against the 

130 Municipal Government in Ireland 

ordinary citizens for refusing to attend 
divine worship. 

To reduce the commoners of Drogheda 
to conformity in religion a commission 
of Oyer and Terminer was granted to Sir 
John Davys and others. 

In New Ross and Wexford fines were 
imposed for recusancy, or refusal to attend 
the Protestant service. In the latter town 
pressure had to be brought to bear upon 
the jury in order to obtain a verdict. ' We 
were fain," said Sir John Davys, " to 
threaten them with the Star Chamber before 
they would return any presentment to us." 

In Munster particularly severe measures 
were taken against the Roman Catholic 
recusants by direction of Sir Henry 
Brouncker, the Lord President of that 
province. Every town in Munster was 
visited by the Judges of assize, with whom 
Sir John Davys, the Attorney-General, 
was associated. And everywhere were the 
the people penalised for obeying the law 
of God as dictated to them by their con- 
science rather than that of the Parliament 
and King. 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 131 

The Mayor of Cork, William Sarsfield, 
steadfastly refused to attend divine service 
in the established church when summoned 
to do so by the Lord President and Council. 
His refusal cost him 100. Heavy fines 
were likewise imposed upon other pro- 
minent citizens of Cork. The Mayor was 
deposed from office for refusing to take the 
oath of supremacy, an oath which no 
Catholic could take. For declining to deliver 
up the insignia of his office to the mayor 
elected in his place and neglecting to attend 
before the Lord President when summoned 
he was fined 500 and sentenced to im- 

The treatment of the Mayor of Cork was 
that meted out to many another chief 
magistrate of the southern province. In a 
letter from the Lord President of Munster 
written from Waterford and dated Sep- 
tember I2th, 1606, a copy of which appears 
amongst the State papers of James's reign, 
that officer stated that he had deposed all 
the mayors and sovereigns of the province, 
the town of Waterford only excepted (where 
the Mayor, Sir Richard Ay le ward con- 

132 Municipal Government in Ireland 

formed) and Youghal which he declared 
he must take on his way homeward and 
execute the heaviest judgments on the 
mayor, " because he continue th longest 
in his wilfulness." 

The severity of the Lord President of 
Munster was the subject of some corres- 
pondence between the Lord Deputy and 
the Lords of the Privy Council of England. 
In a letter of the Lord Deputy, dated 
August, 1607, the following passage occurs : 
" Many of the merchants, too, and other 
inhabitants of corporate towns, terrified 
as they pretended, with his (Sir Henry 
Brouncker's) course of proceeding, gave 
over their trades, and betook themselves 
into the country, openly professing that 
they would abandon their traffic beyond 
the seas rather than the President should 
be benefited by the impost on wines, and 
that they would incur any infliction of the 
law in that case rather than he should gain 
any glory or commendation in the work 
which he intended." 

Notwithstanding the royal proclamation 
of July, 1605, and the further one published 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 133 

by the authority of the Lord Deputy and 
Council in October of that year, little 
progress was made in the early years of 
King James's reign in promoting the new 
religion. In a letter dated the 27th day 
of October, 1607, from the Lord Deputy 
and Council to the English Privy Council 
the following statement occurs : " Most 
of the mayors and principal officers of cities 
and corporate towns and justices of the 
peace of this country birth refuse to take 
the oath of supremacy as is requisite by 
the statute. And for an instance, the party 
that should this year have been Mayor 
of Dublin avoided to his very great charges, 
only because he would not take the oath." 
Catholic Dublin refused to yield without 
a struggle to the pressure that was brought 
to bear upon it in this all-important matter 
of religion. In the year 1613, as recorded 
in Lodge's " Desiderata Curiosa Hibernica," 
all the aldermen but one declined the office 
of mayoralty, as they could not take the 
oath of supremacy. The individual who 
finally accepted the office of Mayor was a 
young man lately elected alderman. In 

134 Municipal Government in Ireland 

administering the oath to him, Sir William 
Methuen, the Lord Chief Baron, observed 
that he had leaped a salmon-leap, for that 
he saw many grave and gray-headed men 
there standing about him, whose turn 
was to have been mayors before him, but 
that they would not take the oath of 
supremacy, which he was sorry for. 

No Irish city, however, seems to have 
suffered so much during the Stuart period 
for its adherence to the Catholic religion 
as the city of Waterford. Waterford was 
a city which had had a tradition of practical 
independence for centuries. During that 
period its civic rulers had upheld its dignity, 
ruled well and wisely, and defended it 
against its enemies. Under the Tudors 
its independence was curtailed and the 
religion of the citizens placed under a ban. 
But the proud spirit of the men of Waterford 
was not broken. 

Shortly after the accession of King James, 
Lord Mount joy, the Lord Deputy, appeared 
before the gates of Waterford with a large 
force, his purpose doubtless being to secure 
the interest of James in that important 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 135 

city. The citizens, however, although pro- 
fessing their willingness to admit him and 
his retinue, refused to admit his army, 
alleging that it was contrary to their 
chartered rights to do so. The arbitra- 
riness of the rule which was now ushered 
in is well exemplified in the answer sent 
back to the citizens by the Lord Deputy, 
namely, that with King James's sword 
he would cut King John's charter ; he 
would ruin their city and strew it with 

The proclamation of the accession of 
King James was violently resisted by the 
citizens. In the Calendar of the Carew 
MSS. appears a document recording the 
refusal of Cork and Waterford to proclaim 
James as lawful king. After dealing with 
the open rebellion of Cork, the document 
continues : ' The town of Waterford was 
no less perverse, for they pulled down Sir 
Nicholas Walshe, Chief Justice of the 
Common Pleas, from the Cross in the town 
when proclaiming the King's titles to these 
dominions and would not suffer him to 
proceed. They allowed their priests to set 

136 Municipal Government in Ireland 

up the Mass, and one Doctor White made 
a public sermon, that now they might thank 
God that every man might freely enjoy 
the fruits of his own reward, sit under his 
own shop, where before all things were 
extorted from them by the rapine of the 
soldiers, that none could say this was his 
own ; for now Jesabell was dead." 

Notwithstanding mandates of the Lord 
President of Munster sent to the chief 
citizens and the imposition of fines under 
the Statute of 2 Elizabeth the inhabitants 
failed to conform to the new religion. And 
for their devotion to their religion the citizens 
paid the highest price possible, all their 
liberties, rights and franchises were seized 
into the King's hands and the civic govern- 
ment overthrown. The State papers of 
the period record that at Michaelmas in the 
year 1615 Nicholas White FitzWalter, 
alderman of the city, was elected mayor of 
Waterford and took the mayoral oath. 
He acted in the office until the 2Oth day of 
October following when the Earl of Tho- 
mond, Lord President of Munster, tendered 
to him the oath of supremacy mentioned 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 137 

in the Statute of 2 Elizabeth. The mayor 
refused to take the oath and thereupon 
forbore to exercise the duties of the office. 
His successor, John Skiddy, likewise re- 
fused to take the oath and yielded up the 
mayoralty. A third mayor, Alexander 
Duff (or Cuffe), acted similarly. In April, 
1617, it was found necessary to seek a 
mayor outside the ranks of the aldermen 
and one Walter Cleere who had never 
borne office and was not even a member of 
the Common Council was elected and took 
the oath of mayoralty. His fate is not 
stated, but he probably acted as his pre- 
decessors had done, for in this year the 
liberties of the city of Waterford were 
seized into the King's hands. It was not 
until the reign of Charles I. that civic 
government was restored in Waterford. 
The citizens recovered their ancient rights 
and liberties on payment of a fine of 20,000 
marks to the King. 

In Gale's " Ancient Corporate System 
of Ireland," a valuable and trustworthy 
work, it is stated that within two terms 
the mayors and officers of fourteen cities 

138 Municipal Government in Ireland 

and towns were proceeded against, heavily 
fined, and punished in the Court of Castle- 
chamber, for acting in their offices and 
refusing to take the oath of supremacy. 
The fourteen cities and towns were Dublin, 
Kilkenny, Thomastown, Gowran, Inistioge, 
Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Naas, Fethard, 
Clonmel, Kilmallock, Drogheda and Dun- 

Such were the measures taken in Irish 
cities and towns for the furtherance of the 
established religion. Under such a system 
of religious intolerance civic government 
in Ireland as it had heretofore existed 
became impossible. A fatal blow was 
struck at the principle of self-government. 
No longer could the inhabitants of Irish 
corporate towns be ruled by men who were 
bound to them by the intimate tie of 
religion, and who represented the wealth, 
intelligence and dignity of their towns. 
Public men were hounded out of civic life 
in Ireland for daring to profess the religion 
of their fathers the religion which their 
conscience told them to be the only true 
one and their places were taken, by the 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 139 

craven hearted or the stranger. The disas- 
trous effect upon the good government 
and welfare of the towns can easily be 
imagined. In a report presented by com- 
missioners appointed in the year 1622 
signed amongst others by Lord Falkland, 
the Lord Chancellor, and referred to in 
Gale's " Ancient Corporate System of Ire- 
land " the following statement occurs : 
" Poore men that will take the oath of 
supremacy are made chief officers in all 
the citties and townes, and the rich men 
being recusants never employed to any 
such offices, which bringeth the townes 
into contempt and causeth trade to 

The effect produced upon civic govern- 
ment in Ireland by religious persecution 
and by the restriction of the general body 
of the inhabitants from an effective share 
in the government of their towns was 
disastrous. The evil was a cumulative 
one and went on increasing, generation 
after generation, until civic government 
in Ireland became a negation of every 
principle of self-government. 

140 Municipal Government in Ireland 


In another important respect were the 
ancient cities and corporate towns of Ireland 
affected by the change of dynasty in Eng- 
land, namely, in their revenues. Customs 
dues leviable under their charters or by 
usage formed an important item of civic 
revenue. It was a moot point whether 
certain of the customs dues levied were 
legally due to the Crown or not. James I. 
was not a Sovereign likely to leave the 
matter long in doubt. In February, 1607, 
he sent instructions to Sir Arthur Chi- 
chester, directing him to summon before 
certain members of the Council all persons 
with their charters, grants and evidences 
whereby they challenged a right to receive 
any moneys for customs, impositions, or 
levies upon goods or wares imported or 
exported, or any exemptions from payment 
of customs or duties. Their charters and 
other documents were directed to be de- 
livered up to the Lord Deputy and Council 
for perusal 

Increase of Royal Power in Ireland 141 

The next step was the issue of an order 
to the corporate towns to send over their 
charters to England, for examination as to 
the validity of the claims made thereunder. 
The Commissioners who examined the 
claims issued a certificate to the effect that 
all the ancient customs paid within the 
ports of Ireland and the subsidy of twelve 
pence in the pound were due to the King 
by the laws of that realm the freemen of 
the ports of Dublin, Waterford, Drogheda 
and Galway alone being exempt from pay- 
ment of the said subsidy. 

Accordingly a book of rates was prepared 
and sent to Ireland and instructions issued 
for the appointment of a competent number 
of fit persons in every port to collect the 
customs to the King's use. In order to 
advance the King's revenue, and to pre- 
serve the balance of trade between the 
various ports of Ireland it was suggested 
in the instructions issued by the King that 
there should be raised upon the merchandise 
imported or exported by the freemen of 
the said four ports so much by way of 
impost as the freemen of the other ports 

142 Municipal Government in Ireland 

paid for subsidy, which might be done by 
virtue of the royal prerogative. 

In this way King James succeeded in 
increasing his revenue from Irish towns. 
Under the cloak of legality he compelled 
them to yield up the customs to him. At 
the same time he took advantage of the 
opportunity to grant new charters to many 
of the ancient towns of Ireland whereby 
he restricted the chief functions of govern- 
ment to a select body of burgesses. In 
some cases the chief officers and members 
of the Common Councils were nominated 
by charter thereby establishing govern- 
ing bodies favourable to the royal interest. 


Under King James's successor little 
change took place in municipal government. 
A certain amount of religious toleration 
was purchased from King Charles, as were 
the other " graces " obtained from that 
monarch. Only one new corporation was 
created in this reign, that of Banagher. 

In the Cromwellian period Irish towns 
suffered much moral and material damage. 
Town after town fell into the hands of 
Cromwell's army. Many of the inhabitants 
were dispossessed of their property and 
driven from their places upon the Common 

With the Restoration of the Stuart 
dynasty a new problem presented itself 
that of reconciling the rights of the Crom- 
wellian soldiers who were in possession of 
lands and tenements in the cities and towns 
of Ireland with the claims of the dispossessed 
inhabitants and of the Catholic population 

144 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of the towns who had adhered to the 
Stuarts during the war in Ireland. 

The State papers of the Restoration 
period contain several references to peti- 
tions of the dispossessed inhabitants of 
Irish towns for the restoration of their 
former rights and privileges and to the 
orders made thereon. In August 1660, 
the ancient inhabitants of Cork, a city 
which had taken no part in the rebellion 
of 1641, were ordered by King Charles II. 
to be restored forthwith to their lands and 
to their ancient corporate privileges. In a 
letter from the King to the Lords Justices 
of Ireland dated I4th February, 1661, 
which recited that the inhabitants of 
Youghal had remained constantly loyal 
to the Royal cause during the recent 
disturbed period and had been deprived 
of their estates in the town and without 
by " the late power/' merely because 
they were Papists and Royalists, it was 
ordered that their estates and ancient 
liberties should be restored to them and that 
the natives and inhabitants might freely 
and indifferently without contradiction live, 

The Restoration Period 145 

trade and inhabit together with the Pro- 
testant inhabitants then dwelling in the 
said town without any distinction. 

A special order to a similar effect was 
made with reference to the ancient natives 
of Drogheda and its liberties of the Roman 
Catholic religion against whom no charge 
of disloyalty before the year 1647 could be 

In May, 1661, a general direction was 
issued by the King to the Lords Justices 
of Ireland concerning divers of his subjects 
who had formerly lived in Limerick, Galway, 
and other towns but had been expelled 
therefrom, and were still by reason only 
of their race and religion prevented from 
returning there. This His Majesty stated 
was bad for trade, as it drove many traders 
abroad, where they engaged in trade to 
the enrichment of foreign Princes. Accord- 
ingly it was ordered that those who had 
formerly the right to trade in those parts 
should continue to have that right and 
" without making any national distinction 
between our subjects of that our kingdom 
or giving any interruption upon pretence 

146 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of difference of judgment or opinion in 
matters of religion, but that all act and 
deal together as becometh our loyal and 
dutiful subjects." The mayors, sheriffs, 
and other officers of cities, towns and 
corporations were directed to take notice 
of the order, which was to be published 
in their respective cities and towns. 

The desire of the King to do an act of 
bare justice by the restoration to their 
homes of the inhabitants of the cities and 
towns of Ireland who had been expelled there- 
from was deliberately ignored by the Lords 
Justices. They apparently feared that the 
publication of the order would lead to the 
repeopling of the cities and towns by a 
Catholic population and that the Common 
Councils and civic magistracies would again 
be filled by those professing that religion. 
Nothing was done on foot of the Order, but 
representations were made to England 
against any such restoration to power of the 
hated Papists. These representations 
found favour with the English Privy Council. 
On I3th August, 1661, the following answer 
was sent by the Privy Council : " The 

The Restoration Period 147 

King approves of what you have done for 
the peace and order of that Kingdom, and 
thinks you have very circumspectly followed 
your instructions in the matter of the 
King's letter of 22nd May last. We have 
considered it, and it was right of you to 
delay executing it. The letter in question 
was grounded upon the express desire of 
some of the King's Popish subjects there 
who say that they are not allowed to traffic 
there ' only for difference of nation and 
religion.' There was not at any time an 
idea that all Popish natives and freemen 
generally should be restored to the cities 
and towns, whatever part they may have 
taken in the late rebellion. Such a re- 
quest would, of course, have been re- 

To remove any possible doubt as to the 
rights of the Roman Catholic population 
to be restored to civic office, Sir Edward 
Nicholas, the Secretary of the English 
Privy Council, stated in his covering letter : 
' The King hath declared at the Board 
that his Majesty did not intend by his 
letters of the 22nd of May last to restore 

148 Municipal Government in Ireland 

them further than to trade and traffique 
and not to establish them in any privileges 
relating to magistracy or government in 
any towns, neither (for ought I hear from 
some of the chief Irish papists who are 
here) did they desire more than to have 
liberty to live and traffic in Ireland." 

Thus whatever hopes the former Catholic 
inhabitants had of being restored to their 
rightful places in the government of their 
towns and in the civic offices were com- 
pletely taken away. It is interesting to 
note that in the State papers of the period 
the terms " Native " and " Papist " and 
" race " and "religion " are constantly 
bracketed together. Did the old colonists 
of Catholic stock who remained faithful 
to their religion, and there must have 
been many such, completely lose their 
identity ? Or were they regarded as hav- 
ing forfeited all claim to consideration and 
accordingly reduced to the level of the 
" mere Irish," for adhering to the ancient 
religion of Ireland ? Such seems to have 
been the attitude of the English governors 
towards them. 

The Restoration Period 149 


While the old Catholic inhabitants were 
precluded from any share in civic govern- 
ment and were merely allowed on sufferance 
" to trade and traffic " in the towns, the 
freedom of the towns was thrown open to 
all foreigners or strangers who should 
choose to seek it. Under the Act of 
Explanation passed in the year 1665 the 
Lord Lieutenant and Council were em- 
powered during a period of seven years 
to make and establish rules, orders, and 
directions for the better regulating of all 
cities, walled towns, and corporations in 
Ireland, and the electing of magistrates and 
officers therein. 

In pursuance of this Act regulations 
known as the " New Rules " were made for 
Irish corporate towns. Special regulations 
were made for Dublin, Drogheda, Limerick, 
Galway and other important towns, and 
general regulations for the rest. 

One of the most important of the " New 
Rules " was a general provision made for 
encouraging foreigners to become inhabit- 

150 Municipal Government in Ireland 

ants of Irish corporate towns. The Lord 
Lieutenant and Council proclaimed that 
all foreigners, strangers, and aliens, as well 
others as Protestants, who were or 
should be merchants, traders, artisans, 
artificers, seamen, or otherwise skilled and 
exercised in any mystery, craft, or trade, 
or in the art of navigation, then residing 
or inhabiting (within the cities or towns of 
Dublin, Drogheda, Limerick and Galway, 
as to those Corporations, and within the 
kingdom of Ireland, as to all other cities 
and towns), or who should thereafter come 
into the said several cities and towns with 
intent and resolution there to inhabit, 
should, on request, and payment of twenty 
shillings by way of fine to the chief magis- 
trate and common council, or other persons 
authorised to admit freemen, be admitted 
freemen of the town ; and, if desired, of any 
guild, brotherhood, society, or fellowship 
of any trade, craft, or mystery within the 
same, during residence for the most part ; 
and the persons so admitted were thence- 
forth to be deemed denizens within the 

The Restoration Period 151 

Perhaps the most important of the " New 
Rules " from the point of view of the 
government was that which provided that 
the names of the mayor or other chief 
magistrate, sheriffs, recorder, and town clerk 
of Irish corporate towns should be submitted 
for approval to the Lord Lieutenant and 
Privy Council of Ireland. This regulation 
gave the government complete control over 
the appointment of these important officers 
throughout Ireland. If the Lord Lieu- 
tenant and Council declined to approve of 
those elected to these offices, further choice 
had to be made until their approval was 

These " New Rules," made under statu- 
tory authority, were a serious encroach- 
ment upon the chartered rights of the old 
corporations. Freedom of choice in the 
selection of the mayor or other chief officer 
had already been curtailed by the restric- 
tion of the chief magistracy to those willing 
to take the oath of supremacy. The further 
condition was now imposed that the no- 
minee of the electors should be a persona 
grata to the Government. The same re- 

152 Municipal Government in Ireland 

strictions applied to the sheriffs, recorders 
and town clerks. With the control thus 
secured over the corporate towns of Ireland, 
the Government had little occasion to fear 
a display of independent spirit in the old 
corporate towns such as had marked their 
history on many occasions in the past. 

The provision with regard to the admis- 
sion of freemen, while it may have been 
necessary with a view to the repeopling 
of towns, the inhabitants of which had 
been decimated by war, famine, and 
pestilence or expelled from their homes, was 
nevertheless an encroachment upon a pri- 
vilege hitherto highly and perhaps too 
jealously cherished by the municipal cor- 
porations and the trade guilds. 

The " New Rules " made for Drogheda, 
Limerick, and Galway provided that the 
election of all corporate officers should be 
restricted to the Common Councils of those 
Corporations, thereby implanting in these 
ancient corporations the fatal principle of 
self-election which was such a prominent 
feature of the corporations created by King 
James. It was further provided that no 

The Restoration Period 153 

matter should be debated in any general 
assembly therein until it should have first 
passed the Common Council. 

The influence of Charles II. in Ireland 
was still further increased by the incor- 
poration of fifteen new boroughs which 
supplied thirty additional members in the 
interest of the Crown in the Irish House of 
Commons. The charters granted by King 
Charles were modelled upon those issued 
by James I. Fifteen additional close 
boroughs were thus created. They were : 

Baltinglass Dunleer Middleton 

Blessington Granard Portarlington 

Cariesfort Harristown St. Johnstown 
Castlemartyr Lanesborough Hillsborough 
Charleville Longford Tulske 


The history of Irish municipal corpora- 
tions during the century and a half which 
extended from the close of the Stuart 
period to the reform of those bodies in 1840 
is one long, sordid story of misgovernment, 
corruption, jobbery and intolerance, all of 
which defects were directly traceable to 
the evil influences set at work during the 
Stuart period. / 

In the new corporations established by 
King James I. and his successors there 
was no possibility of a useful career of 
municipal government when the vital 
principle of self-government was absent. 
The inhabitants of these towns received 
under their charters of incorporation no 
effective share in municipal government. 
The general body of inhabitants, or the 
commonalty, as they were called, were 
indeed included as an integral part of the 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 155 

corporate body. But the conduct of affairs 
and the selection of the mayors, sheriffs, 
and other important officers were vested in 
small select bodies usually consisting of about 
twelve individuals, called " Free Burgesses," 
together with the Mayor or other chief 
officer. This select class was endowed with 
the power of filling vacancies in their own 
body by co-option. The mayor and sheriffs 
were elective annually, but the " Free 
Burgesses " held office for life. The power 
of removal of a " Free Burgess " for mis- 
conduct was vested in his fellows, but that 
power must seldom or never have been 
exercised. It may be considered that the 
representation in the Irish Parliament of 
these corporate towns was a matter which 
concerned the general body of inhabitants. 
The framers of the charters, however, con- 
sidered that the right of election of Par- 
liamentary representatives should be vested 
in the chief officer and " Free Burgesses " 
alone. The rights of the commonalty were 
as a rule confined to a share in the election 
of inferior officers and in the making of bye- 

156 Municipal Government in Ireland 

The real raison d'etre of the new cor- 
porations was, as has been explained, for 
the purpose of creating a body of members 
in the Irish House of Commons in the 
interest of the Crown, and not for the 
purpose of establishing a useful system of 
municipal government for the inhabitants 
of the places incorporated. 

The select governing bodies thus set up 
in a large number of Irish towns were 
completely irresponsible. They rendered 
no account of their actions to the general 
body of inhabitants. Municipal affairs were 
neglected or attended to according to the 
whim of a few individuals. Where atten- 
tion was paid to them it was solely with a 
view to the interest of the governing class. 
Corporate appointments, even inferior ones, 
were confined to the members of that class 
or to their families and friends. Corporate 
property became diverted from its proper 
end, and in only too many cases passed into 
the hands of the "Free Burgesses" them- 
selves. In many of these corporate towns 
complete control of affairs and property 
passed into the hands of one individual 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 157 

or family, and that influence became per- 
petuated from generation to generation. 
Where such dominion over the affairs of a 
town was exercised by an individual, he 
was generally called the " Patron." The 
first " Patron " of a borough was usually 
the patentee of lands adjoining, or the lord 
of the manor upon which the town was 
erected, or a wealthy land owner of the 
neighbourhood. The " Patron " ordinarily 
nominated the members of the Common 
Council or governing body of the town as 
well as the chief civic functionaries. His 
nominees were returned to the Irish House 
of Commons, by the Chief Officer and free 
burgesses, the creatures of the Patron. Many 
corporations were kept in existence solely 
for the purpose of returning members to 
the Irish Parliament. 

The condition of the older corporations, 
some of which had a history extending over 
centuries, gradually approximated to that 
of the newer ones established by King 
James I. and Charles II. In the older 
towns the Common Councils became com- 
posed of cliques of individuals or families 

158 Municipal Government in Ireland 

who endeavoured to render their cor- 
porations as close as those of the towns of 
modern growth. This they did by ex- 
cluding as rigorously as possible the general 
body of inhabitants from admission to the 
freedom of the towns. 

In some of the older corporate towns 
certain rights to admission as a freeman or 
member of the corporation were acknow- 
ledged to exist. Being the son of a freeman, 
being married to the daughter of a freeman, 
or having served an apprenticeship to a 
freeman were the usual titles to freedom 
recognised. In Dublin, Limerick, Water- 
ford and a few other towns the rights of 
birth, marriage, and apprenticeship were 
recognised. In Wexford the right of ap- 
prenticeship was the only right recognised 
at the close of this period. In Bandon 
the eldest son of a freeman was alone 
recognised as entitled to the freedom of 
the town. In Dublin a candidate for ad- 
mission to the freedom of the city had first 
to seek admission as a member of one of 
the incorporated guilds and then apply 
to the Common Council. In the year 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 159 

1835 when an inquiry was made into the 
state of municipal corporations in Ireland 
the Commissioners who conducted the in- 
quiry reported that there was no general, 
absolute and uniform right to admission 
into the municipal corporations. Nowhere 
did they find the qualification of being 
an inhabitant, or householder, recognised 
as an available title to the corporate fran- 

The rights from birth, marriage and 
apprenticeship had, they said, even where 
most liberally admitted, failed to supply 
in the body of the Corporations a general 
constituency, comprising, or representing 
sufficiently, the various classes of the in- 
habitants. The two former qualifications 
confined the persons eligible to those re- 
lated to or connected with the old members, 
while the third, that of apprenticeship, left 
to the old members complete control as to 
the class from which the new members 
might be selected ; thus, when a particular 
party had gained the ascendancy in any 
corporation, these rights operated to pre- 
serve the corporate privileges to that class 

160 Municipal Government in Ireland 

exclusively. Even where these rights to 
admission were recognised, it was the policy 
of the governing bodies to place obstacles 
in the way of attaining the freedom. 

In the Corporations created by King 
James I. the power of admitting to the 
freedom of the towns was vested in the 
chief officer and free burgesses. In the 
older corporate towns the Common Councils 
appear to have early acquired the privilege 
of deciding on the merits of the claims to 
freedom, and of granting or withholding 
admission. They exercised also, without 
limit as to numbers, the power of admitting 
whom they pleased, by what was termed 
" special grace." 

" Possessed of these powers," the Com- 
missioners stated, " the governing bodies 
have too commonly used them, without 
scruple, not as trusts to be exercised for 
the benefit of the community, but as the 
means of attaining for themselves an ex- 
clusive dominion over the general inhabi- 
tancy, and political influence in the election 
of Members of Parliament. The course 
which they seem to have almost universally 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 161 

pursued for this object has been to concede, 
with the utmost parsimony, to the inhabit- 
ants the right to become members of the 
Corporations as freemen." 

In Bandon, Naas, Youghal and some of 
the smaller corporations the power of 
admission to freedom remained vested in 
the general corporate bodies of those towns, 
but with little practical difference in favour 
of the general body of the inhabitants, as 
the corporations were under the control 
of patrons, on whose will depended the 
admission or rejection of candidates for 
freedom. The corporation of Trim, al- 
though in constitution apparently free, 
was in reality, from the sectarian principles 
upon which its members acted, practically 
close and exclusive. The corporation of 
Carrickfergus presented a remarkable con- 
trast to the other corporations in the number 
of its freemen. According to the Local Re- 
port upon that town freemen had long been 
admitted there in numbers, and in a manner 
almost amounting to universal suffrage. 

The Reform Act of 1832 caused the 
governing bodies of Irish towns to recon- 

1 62 Municipal Government in Ireland 

sider their attitude towards the admission 
of freemen. An enlarged leasehold and 
household constituency was introduced by 
that Act. As a counterpoise to the new 
Parliamentary voters, the common councils 
in many instances found it desirable to 
extend more liberally the corporate fran- 
chise. In Clonmel, we are told, rights to 
freedom, not recognised for eighty years 
prior to that Act being passed, had been 
since admitted. In Kinsale and Athlone 
freemen were admitted in large numbers 
in the year 1831 for the same purpose, but 
this attempt was defeated by the clause in 
the Reform Act which excluded honorary 
freemen admitted subsequently to the 3Oth 
of March in that year. 

While the admission of freemen by right 
of birth, marriage, or servitude was rigidly 
restricted in the older corporations previous 
to the Reform Act of 1832, there was no 
limit to the admission of freemen by 
" Special Grace." The power of admission 
by special grace could always be used, and 
was in fact used, to counteract any increase 
on title supposed to be dangerous to the 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 163 

prevailing influence. The existence of this 
power in the hands of the governing bodies 
of the towns was one of the gravest defects 
in the constitution of Irish corporate towns 
during the eighteenth and early nineteenth 
centuries. Its exercise led to the complete 
negation of every principle of municipal 
government. Finally it led to the over- 
throw of the whole Irish corporate system. 
The power of admission by special grace 
was particularly directed against a special 
class of inhabitants in counties of cities 
and counties of towns, namely, the free- 
holders in those Irish cities and towns 
which under their charters were made 
separate counties. The freeholders exer- 
cised the most important civil right, that 
of voting at elections for members of 
Parliament, without control of the corporate 
authorities. Having this right, they had 
little reason to seek for admission to the 
freedom of the corporate towns. But their 
very existence had a decided though in- 
direct tendency to depress the freemen as 
a class. The existence of the freeholders, 
with independent voting power in the 

1 64 Municipal Government in Ireland 

election of members of Parliament, led to 
the creation of non-resident freemen for the 
purpose of counteracting that influence. 
The Municipal Commissioners in their 
general report issued in the year 1835 
state as follows : " In many corporations 
(we may instance those of Galway, Lime- 
rick, Cork and Drogheda) the creation of 
non-resident freemen has prevailed to an 
extent apparently only limited by the 
necessity of providing a sufficient number 
in the interest of the Corporation to 
bear down the resident freehold consti- 
tuency." The Reform Act of 1832 con- 
tained a provision to check this practice. 

The admission of non-resident freemen 
was a practice completely at variance with 
the principle of municipal self-government. 
The charters by which the system of muni- 
cipal government was established and de- 
veloped in Ireland professed to confer 
numerous rights and privileges upon the 
inhabitants of the incorporated districts, 
while at the same time imposing restrictions 
upon strangers. The inhabitants were 
granted the right of managing their own 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 165 

affairs, electing their own officers and 
making bye-laws for the regulation of the 
municipal district and for the conduct of 
municipal affairs. In all cases the prin- 
ciple of residence as a condition precedent 
to the enjoyment of the rights and pri- 
vileges granted by the charters was clearly 
recognised. As early as the reign of Henry 
VII. this principle of habitancy was recog- 
nised and enforced by the Irish Parliament 
which enacted in the year 1495 " That no 
City or great Town receive or admit any per- 
son to be Alderman, Juror or Freeman, within 
any of the said Cities or Towns, but such 
persons as have been prentice or been con- 
tinually inhabitant in the said Cities or 
Towns." Even in the charters granted by 
James I. to the places newly incorporated 
by him it was granted that all the inhabit- 
ants should form a body corporate, and 
that the commonalty should consist of 
all the inhabitants and so many and such 
other men whom the provost and free 
burgesses should admit to the freedom 
of the borough. 

Notwithstanding the spirit of the charters 

1 66 Municipal Government in Ireland 

and the provisions of the Act referred to, 
the governing bodies of Irish corporate 
towns, old and new, excluded the general 
body of the inhabitants from their char- 
tered right of admission to the freedom of 
the towns, and admitted aliens who had no 
interest in the welfare of the municipalities. 
The results of such exercise of the power of 
admission to the freedom of Municipal 
Corporations in Ireland cannot be better 
described than in the words of the Municipal 
Commissioners of 1835. " It has followed," 
they said, " that in many towns there is 
no recognised commonalty ; that in others, 
where existing in name, it is entirely 
disproportioned to the inhabitants, and 
consists of a very small portion, of an 
exclusive character, not comprising the 
mercantile interests, nor representing the 
wealth, intelligence, or respectability of 
the town. The corporations are, not with- 
out reason, looked on by the great body of 
the inhabitants of the corporate districts 
with suspicion and distrust, as having 
interests distinct from and adverse to those 
of the general community, whom they thus 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 167 

studiously exclude from a participation 
in the municipal government. Their mem- 
bers frequently consist entirely of the 
relatives and adherents of particular indi- 
viduals or families, and the principles of 
their association, and those which regulate 
admission or exclusion, have rarely any 
connexion with the common benefit of the 
district, or the wishes of its inhabitants. 
In far the greater number of the close Cor- 
porations, the persons composing them are 
the mere nominees of the ' Patron ' or 
' Proprietor ' of the borough ; while in 
those apparently more enlarged they are 
admitted and associated in support of some 
particular political interest, most frequently 
at variance with the majority of the resident 


The system of municipal government 
which obtained in Ireland from the close 
of the Stuart period to the reform of cor- 
porate government in Ireland operated 
with peculiar hardship in respect to an 

1 68 Municipal Government in Ireland 

important section of the urban population, 
namely, the Roman Catholics. Excluded 
from the higher corporate offices by the 
religious policy of the earlier Stuarts, they 
were under Queen Anne completely de- 
barred from membership of municipal cor- 
porations. Until near the close of the 
eighteenth century the Roman Catholic 
population were excluded from any share 
in municipal government. In most of the 
towns the Roman Catholics formed the 
majority of the population and were a large 
proportion of the wealthier class. In addi- 
tion to corporate office, the administra- 
tion of local justice and the selection of 
juries were completely in the hands of 
members of a different religious persuasion, 
with the result that both municipal govern- 
ment and the administration of justice were 
regarded with distrust and suspicion by the 
Roman Catholic population. 

One result of the exclusion of the Roman 
Catholic population from a share in muni- 
cipal government was that in many of the 
towns it became difficult to find resident 
Protestants of sufficient standing to fill 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 169 

offices of importance, and accordingly 
strangers were appointed in defiance of 
both law and charters. The political spirit 
of the times, however, induced the Irish 
Parliament to legalise this illegality by the 
statute 21 Geo. II. c. 10, which enacted 
" that no person who had been or should 
be in all other respects duly elected and 
admitted into any of the said offices or 
franchises in any town corporate or borough 
not being a city should be ousted out of 
any such office or franchise as aforesaid, 
or be any ways sued, prosecuted, or molested 
for, or by reason only of his not 
being an inhabitant of, or resident within, 
said town corporate or borough, at the 
time of his election, but should hold, exer- 
cise, and enjoy such office or franchise as 
fully and effectually to all intents and 
purposes as if such person or persons was 
or were inhabitants of, or resided within 
such town corporate or borough at the time 
of election." 

The effect of this enactment was to de- 
prive a vast number of the corporate towns 
of a resident governing body. In some 

170 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of the towns a few of the members continued 
to be resident, in others the whole body 
of burgesses consisted of non-residents, 
a few of whom attended on occasions of 
elections of members of Parliament or 
municipal officers or of the disposition of 
corporate property, but in no other way 
interfered in municipal affairs. 

In the year 1793 the Irish Parliament 
under the influence of Grattan repealed the 
Acts which excluded Roman Catholics from 
admission to municipal corporations. 
Strange as it may seem, the Act of 1793 
conferred little benefit upon the professors 
of the Catholic religion. Eligible for ad- 
mission though they now were, they had 
none of the requisite titles. They were not 
the sons of freemen, they were not married 
to daughters of freemen, nor had they served 
an apprenticeship to freemen. For the 
Roman Catholics of that generation and 
indeed of the next the Act was practically 
a dead letter. In the close corporations 
they still continued to be excluded. In 
many of the older corporations, their ad- 
mission as freemen was openly resisted on 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 171 

sectarian principles. In few of the cor- 
porations did they succeed in gaining ad- 
mission to the governing bodies. 

At the period of the inquiry into the 
state of municipal corporations in Ireland, 
it was found that the Roman Catholics 
were still excluded from their proper share 
in the government of Irish cities and towns. 
In one corporation alone, that of Tuam, 
was the majority of the governing body 
composed of Roman Catholics. In the 
greater number of corporate towns, the 
rule was still exclusion. Until the old 
corporations were abolished, and a new 
system of municipal government set up, 
they had no chance of fair treatment. The 
Commissioners in their Report to the King 
submitted that a system of municipal 
polity which excluded such a class of His 
Majesty's subjects from all substantial 
corporate privilege and power, must be 
essentially defective in its structure. 


Before leaving the subject of freemen it 
is necessary to state what were their rights 

172 Municipal Government in Ireland 

and privileges at this period. Both in the 
old and in the new corporations they were 
entitled to join with the other members in 
the enactment of bye-laws. In a few 
corporations they shared in the general 
administration of corporate affairs and 
property either through their represen- 
tatives on the Common Councils, or else 
by having the previous acts of the Common 
Councils submitted for their approval in 
their general court, known as the " Court 
of D'Oyer Hundred " or " Tholsel Court." 
Under the " New Rules," it may be re- 
membered, it was provided that no matter 
should be debated in any general assembly 
in Drogheda, Limerick, or Galway until 
it should have first passed the Common 
Council of those towns. To influence 
opinion in the freemen's courts the members 
of the Common Councils were in the habit 
of attending and voting as freemen, a 
practice resented and complained of by the 
ordinary freemen. 

In the older cities and towns the freemen 
were entitled to vote for members of 
Parliament. Freemen of those places re- 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 173 

tained this right under the Reform Act of 
1832, subject to the provisions of that 
Act as to residence and otherwise. 

Chief amongst the privileges of freemen 
was their eligibility to corporate office. 
In the close corporations this qualification 
counted for little as the nominee of the 
governing body or of the " Patron " of the 
borough could always be made a freeman 
first, and then appointed to office. 

For the ordinary freeman the privilege 
of greatest material value was his freedom 
from the payment of municipal tolls and 
customs. The very existence of this pri- 
vilege gave the governing bodies of Irish 
towns additional interest in restricting 
admission to freedom. This selfish policy 
on the part of the governing bodies tended 
to add to their unpopularity amongst the 
general body of the inhabitants who con- 
sidered themselves unjustly excluded from 
the advantages possessed by a few members. 

In some of the corporations the freemen 
enjoyed special privileges with regard to 
the corporate property. Thus in Drogheda 
freemen were, until the year 1833, alone 

174 Municipal Government in Ireland 

permitted to become tenants of the cor- 
porate estates, and were considered entitled 
to a renewal of their leases on specially 
favourable terms. In Kells and Trim tracts 
of land in the possession of the corporations 
of those towns were divided into certain 
portions, and alloted to members. 

In Limerick the widows of aldermen 
and burgesses were entitled to pensions or 

In Drogheda the distribution of certain 
charitable funds vested in the corporation 
was confined, with scarcely an exception, 
to freemen and their families. 

Some of the ancient privileges of freemen, 
such as the exclusive right of trading 
(generally as a member of the merchant 
guild of his town) and the right of freedom 
from tolls and customs throughout the 
King's dominions had at this time fallen 
into desuetude. 


In the greater number of the corporations 
created by James I. the freemen were un- 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 175 

represented on the Common Councils, the 
' Free Burgesses " of those corporations 
having assumed the entire control of cor- 
porate affairs. In Dublin there were 96 
representatives of the freemen on the 
Common Council. These representatives 
were not elected directly, but through 
the medium of the guilds of trade, of which 
there were twenty-five. In Drogheda the 
guilds of trade returned 14 members to 
the Common Council. These seem to have 
been the only examples in modern times 
in which the trade guilds of Irish towns 
shared directly in municipal government. In 
Bandon, or Bandonbridge, to give it its old 
name, the freemen elected 12 of the Com- 
mon Council. In Ardee where there were 
24 burgesses, a select body, composed of 
6 burgesses and 6 freemen, was elected by 
the corporation at large. In Kinsale the 
commonalty were represented by a single 
individual called " the Common Speaker." 
In other corporations the freemen had only 
a nominal representation, their places on 
the Common Councils being filled by 
nominees of the superior classes of th e 

176 Municipal Government in Ireland 

corporations, or by the Common Councils 
themselves. Thus in Kilkenny where there 
were 18 aldermen (who elected to their 
own body) there were 36 common council- 
men who were elected by the aldermen and 
common councilmen ; and in Waterford 
where there were 19 aldermen and 21 
assistants or common councilmen, the entire 
Council elected the aldermen from the 
assistants, and the assistants from the 


The history of the Irish Parliament during 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 
has often puzzled students of Irish history. 
Many of the enactments of that Parliament, 
a Parliament of a country which was sup- 
posed to have a constitutional form of 
government, have been read with surprise 
and disgust. The penal legislation against 
Roman Catholics was intelligible in a period 
when religious intolerance was rampant. 
But the suicidal legislation which destroyed 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 177 

the trade and manufactures of Ireland, 
legislation such as that which crippled and 
destroyed the great woollen industry of 
Ireland in the closing years of William 
III.'s reign, has given just cause for wonder. 
The whole history of that Parliament is 
illumined when read in the light of Irish 
municipal history. Leaders of industry 
and wealthy merchants, men whose prime 
interest it was to secure favourable commer- 
cial legislation in the Irish Parliament 
were driven from posts of honour in Irish 
towns and from control of municipal 
government for daring to profess the Roman 
Catholic religion. These men who would 
have been the natural representatives of 
their towns in Parliament were declared 
incapable of holding even municipal office. 
The Roman Catholics who formed the 
majority of the urban population were thus 
ousted from both Parliamentary and muni- 
cipal representation. At the same time 
the country was planted with numerous 
petty boroughs with close corporations, 
each returning two members to Parliament. 
These new corporations fell completely 


178 Municipal Government in Ireland 

under the control of a few great landowners, 
whose nominees were invariably returned 
to Parliament. In the older towns the 
Parliamentary representation fell into the 
hands of small cliques of an exclusive 
political and sectarian character. In the 
eighteenth century when in England, Wai- 
pole could say " Every man has his price," 
the state of political morality in Ireland 
was at least as bad, and probably a great 
deal worse. The enormous influence 
wielded by the Irish Privy Council, then 
the abject slave of the Privy Council of 
England, in the distribution of patronage 
and social and pecuniary bribes, had a 
demoralising, disastrous and destructive 
effect upon the Irish Parliament. The 
Privy Council of Ireland could cause to be 
introduced and to be passed any legis- 
lation dictated to it from across the water. 
There was indeed a party of brilliant, 
patriotic, and far-seeing Irishmen in the 
Irish Parliament of the eighteenth century, 
but they were hopelessly outnumbered. 
They did indeed for a time succeed in gain- 
ing a victory, when they secured in 1782 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 179 

an independent Irish Parliament. But the 
victory was shortlived, and the Parliament 
was only nominally independent. The 
executive government which should have 
been the servant of that Parliament was 
in reality its master. The heads of that 
executive, by open and private bribery, 
by every means that political chicanery 
and a corrupt political morality could sug- 
gest, succeeded in causing the Irish Parlia- 
ment to sell the birthright of the Irish na- 
tion. And so the Act of Union was carried. 


One effect of the Act of Union upon muni- 
cipal corporations in Ireland was the 
disappearance of a large number of them. 
The fact is eloquent. Their raison d'etre 
in a great many cases had ceased to be. 
They had been maintained for the sole 
purpose of enabling their " Patrons " to 
return their nominees to the Irish House of 
Commons. When the Irish Parliament met 
its inglorious end. the purpose of many 

i8o Municipal Government in Ireland 

municipal corporations had been served, 
and they were allowed to disappear regard- 
less of the interests of the inhabitants 
who were supposed to have been repre- 
sented in Parliament. Part of the bargain 
out of which arose the Act of Union was 
the payment of 15,000 apiece to the Patrons 
of the boroughs which henceforth lost 
the right of Parliamentary representation. 
The money which by a strange piece of 
irony was paid out of the revenues of Ire- 
land helped to bolster up the tottering 
fortunes of many a noble house and enabled 
the heads of those houses to maintain for 
a time the dignity of their newly added 

It is interesting to record the names of 
those places in which municipal cor- 
porations became extinct subsequent to 
the date of the Act of Union. They were : 

Castlebar, Ballinakill, Dunleer, Bally- 
shannon, Carrick-on-Shannon, Knock- 
topher, Roscommon, Askeaton, Blessington, 
Banagher, Philipstown, Newcastle (near 
Lyons), Limavady, Gowran, Granard, 
Donegal, Lanesborough, Athboy, Killibegs, 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 181 

Fethard (Wexford) Jamestown, St. Johns- 
town (Longford). 

And the following villages : Augher, 
Bannow, Cariesfort, Fore, Harristown, Old 
Leighlin, St. Johnstown (Donegal) and 

Of these thirty municipal corporations 
twenty had been created by James I. or 
his immediate descendants. 

Great hardship was occasioned to the 
inhabitants of the corporate towns in which 
the municipal corporations became extinct. 
The regulation of markets, weights and 
measures, and other matters of local 
importance, remained almost wholly un- 
attended to. The provisions of those Acts 
of Parliament which were to be carried into 
effect by the chief magistrates of corporate 
towns were as a result of this defect in- 
operative in those places. 

A few municipal corporations which lost 
the right of Parliamentary representation 
continued to exist subsequent to the Union. 
They were those, according to the Municipal 
Commissioners of 1835, where the adminis- 
tration of corporate property, and the 

1 82 Municipal Government in Ireland 

emoluments of corporate office, were of 
sufficient importance, either in profit or 
influence, to make their retention an object 
of consideration. 

THE ACT OF 1828. 

The early part of the nineteenth century 
found the whole system of municipal 
government in Ireland in a parlous state. 
The Common Councils cared little for the 
welfare of the towns under their control. 
Nowhere were municipal affairs properly 
attended to. A state of neglect, either 
absolute or partial, was everywhere the 
rule. Corporate property and corporate 
revenues were disappearing and no account 
of them was rendered to those for whom 
they were held in trust. From time to 
time in the case of individual towns the 
Legislature was forced to intervene by the 
passing of local acts for the better govern- 
ment of those towns. At last matters 
became so bad, and the need for redress 
so urgent, that it became necessary to pass 
a general Act to provide for the conduct of 
certain necessary local affairs. 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 183 

This Act (9 Geo. IV. c. 82) was entitled 
' An Act to make provision for the lighting, 
cleansing, and watching of Cities, Towns 
Corporate, and Market Towns in Ireland 
in certain cases." It empowered those 
who were vitally interested in these import- 
ant matters, namely, the inhabitants, to 
elect a body of local commissioners, resi- 
dent in the town, for the purpose of carrying 
the Act into effect. The necessary funds 
for the lighting, cleansing, watching, paving, 
and improving of the town were to be pro- 
vided by rates levied upon the inhabitants. 
The limits of the town were to be fixed by 
the Commissioners. All the inhabitant 
householders occupying houses rated at 
5 per annum and upwards were entitled 
to vote for the commissioners. The latter 
who were required to be occupiers of houses 
valued at least at 20 per annum were to 
hold office for three years and be eligible 
for re-election. 

This Act was eagerly welcomed and was 
ultimately adopted in no less than sixty- 
five towns. The fact that the British 
Parliament had to pass an Act to provide 

184 Municipal Government in Ireland 

for the performance by commissioners 
voluntarily elected by the inhabitants of 
Irish towns of the elementary duties 
of the governing bodies of those towns was 
a striking commentary upon the state of 
ineptitude into which those bodies had 
fallen in the early nineteenth century. 

The Act of 1828 still left the old Common 
Councils with many possibilities of evil. A 
few years later it was considered necessary 
to have a thorough inquiry into the whole 
municipal system of Ireland. Accordingly 
William IV., in the year 1834, appointed 
a Commission consisting of thirteen pro- 
minent lawyers to conduct an inquiry into 
the Irish municipal system. The English 
system of municipal government which was 
likewise in need of a thorough overhauling 
was at the same time made the subject of 
inquiry. The Irish commissioners pre- 
sented a general report upon the state of 
municipal government in Ireland in the 
year 1835, and in that and the following 
year a series of local reports upon upwards 
of one hundred Irish towns. These reports 
are an invaluable contribution to Irish 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 185 

municipal history. From them a good 
deal of material for this history of municipal 
government in Ireland has been obtained, 
and upon them the present section is based. 
Amongst other subjects dealt with in 
that inquiry were the jurisdiction and 
powers of the corporations in the adminis- 
tration of justice and the nature and 
management of their income, revenues, 
and funds, whether charitable or otherwise. 
The results of their inquiry into these two 
departments of municipal government afford 
valuable material for the student of muni- 
cipal history. 


In the early part of our work we dealt 
with the administration of justice in the 
towns of mediaeval Ireland, and showed how 
the administration of justice in the Hundred 
Courts by civic magistrates popularly 
elected and assisted by juries of their 
fellow townsmen was regarded as one of 
the most cherished privileges of the bur- 
gesses of that period. We have now to see 

1 86 Municipal Government in Ireland 

how the progress of time affected that 
important department of municipal govern- 

We find that civic courts presided over 
by civic magistrates continued to exist 
down to modern times, and that the prac- 
tice of trial by jury still prevailed. Some 
of the old chartered privileges, such as 
exemption from the jurisdiction of external 
tribunals, were, however, no longer 

Such of the corporate districts as had 
been created counties of themselves, namely, 
those of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, 
Galway, Drogheda, Kilkenny and Carrick- 
fergus, possessed a criminal jurisdiction 
exclusive of that of the general magis- 
tracy of the adjoining counties. In these 
cities and towns the ordinary duties of the 
justices of the peace were exercised by such 
officers of the corporations as were, by 
charter, invested with the authority of 
magistrates, or by additional magistrates 
appointed by special Acts of Parliament. 

The early charters of some of the more 
important cities and towns constituted the 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 187 

mayor, and some of the other magistrates, 
Justices of Oyer and Terminer and general 
gaol delivery. In Cork, Carrickfergus, and 
Dublin, where these powers had been 
granted, the ordinary criminal business was 
transacted at quarter sessions, the more 
serious offences and the general delivery of 
the gaols being reserved for the judges of 
the superior courts under their various 
commissions. The mayors of the places 
named were nominally associated with the 
judges in their commissions. 

The chief officer of every corporation 
was, generally, invested with the powers 
and authority of a justice of the peace, and 
he, or his deputy, was in practice the Chief 
Magistrate, while in office, within the cor- 
porate limits. In some places he was 
ex officio a justice of the peace for the 
adjoining county. In Athlone, London- 
derry, Dingle, Kinsale, New Ross, and 
Youghal, as in the counties of cities and 
towns above mentioned, the corporate 
magistrates enjoyed a jurisdiction exclusive 
of that of the general magistracy of the 
county at large. 

1 88 Municipal Government in Ireland 

In some cases inconvenience in the ad- 
ministration of justice was caused by the 
extension of the corporate towns beyond 
the original borough limits, owing to in- 
crease of population and building enterprise. 
A remarkable example was the city of 
Dublin, a very large proportion of which 
was not within the corporate jurisdiction, 
or contributory to the local grand jury 

The corporate charter magistrates were 
usually those only who held the temporary 
office of mayor, provost or sovereign ; but 
in some cases the charters also conferred 
magisterial authority upon other officers, 
or upon the individuals belonging to a 
particular class of the corporation, as the 
aldermen, or upon some of the senior 
members of it, or upon those who had 
filled particular offices such as that of 
Sheriff ; and where so conferred it was 
generally for life. The corporate magis- 
trates enjoyed a peculiar status. They 
were not amenable to the direct super- 
intendence and control of the Crown, as was 
the case with the county magistracy. And, 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 189 

constituted as the great majority of cor- 
porations were at the period of the inquiry, 
the general body of the inhabitants had no 
voice in the selection of the civic magis- 
trates. It thus happened, that with few 
exceptions, in the corporate cities and towns 
the private "Patron" or the self-elected 
council had the nomination of the magis- 
tracy, independent alike of the authority 
of the Crown and the opinion of the public. 
A glaring defect in the case of the corporate 
magistracy was that, however incompetent 
or infirm the wielder of magisterial author- 
ity might be or become, there was no power 
of correcting the evil by removal, and the 
substitution of qualified or efficient persons. 
The civil jurisdiction of the borough 
courts in the greater number of towns was 
limited to debts of a small amount. The 
most common limit, and the one usually 
prescribed by the charters of James I. 
was five marks, equal to 3 is. 6d. in modern 
currency. In some cases, as in Dublin, 
Limerick and Cork, the jurisdiction was 
unlimited as regards the amount of the 
debt that might be sued for. The judges 

Municipal Government in Ireland 

were the annual chief officers of the cor- 
poration, such as the mayor, provost, or 
portreeve, with the addition sometimes of 
the sheriffs. The recorder, where such 
an officer existed, instead of being a judge 
of the court, was in several places, of which 
Dublin was one, permitted to assist only 
as assessor, or adviser of the presiding 
judges, who were persons usually without 
legal knowledge, or previous practical ex- 
perience. The practice of trial by jury 
prevailed in the civic courts. 

The most usual mode of commencing a 
suit in these courts was by the process of 
attachment against the goods of the de- 
fendant, to compel his appearance. Arrest 
of the person, except in execution of a 
judgment of the Court, had by this time 
become rare in the local courts, the statutes 
prohibiting such arrests, except for debts 
of 20 and upwards, having fixed an 
amount generally exceeding the pecuniary 
limit of the jurisdictions. In Kilkenny, 
however, a writ to arrest the person ap- 
peared to be considered the only process 
by which a suit could be commenced. 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 191 

The procedure in these courts was both 
expensive and dilatory. The costs were 
quite disproportionate to the usual amount 
of the debts sued for in them. The com- 
parative cheapness of proceedings by civil 
bill before the assistant barristers (now 
represented by the county court judges), 
and in suits for wages before the magis- 
trates at Petty Sessions, had tended to 
diminish to a considerable extent, the 
practice of the corporate tribunals. The 
Commissioners considered, however, that 
these municipal courts might be made 
highly conducive to the cheap and con- 
venient administration of justice, by the 
introduction of more simple forms of pro- 
cedure and pleading, the attendance of a 
competent professional judge, the establish- 
ment of regular sittings at reasonable 
intervals, a reduction of costs to a scale 
more suitable to the amount of the demands 
usually contested in them, and the sub- 
stitution of an appeal under proper 

In some corporations there existed a 
Court of Conscience wherein a summary 

192 Municipal Government in Ireland 

jurisdiction for the recovery of small debts 
was exercised. This jurisdiction appeared 
generally to be traceable to long usage or 
prescription. It was recognised or estab- 
lished by Act of Parliament in Dublin, Cork, 
Kinsale, Drogheda, Londonderry, Water- 
ford and Wexford. A similar jurisdiction 
was exercised in several other corporate 
towns, but without legislative sanction or 
chartered authority. In no case did the 
amount of the jurisdiction extend beyond 
forty shillings. The usual, if not the only, 
mode of enforcing the decrees of these 
courts was by imprisonment, the conse- 
quence of which was, that very frequently 
persons of the poorest classes endured that 
punishment for long periods for non-pay- 
ment of trivial sums. 

The Judge in these courts was usually 
the mayor or other chief magistrate. In 
Dublin and Waterford, by special Acts of 
Parliament, the ex-mayor was the judge 
for the year succeeding his year of office. 
In Dublin, we are told, the vicious practice 
of farming the office of judge of the Court 
of Conscience by the ex-lord mayor to some 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 193 

other alderman was not unfrequent ; and 
to this practice was attributed much of the 
abuse which prevailed in that Court. Every 
case decided there might be reheard on 
certain terms. These rehearings, to which 
the rules of the Court did not seem to impose 
any limit, greatly enhanced the profits 
of the judges and officers. 

Another interesting court of which men- 
tion must be made, was the Court of Pie 
Poudre. The grant of the right to hold 
this Court is mentioned in the charters of 
several corporate towns. The jurisdiction 
of the court seems to have embraced the 
ordinary transactions at fairs and markets. 
A Court of Pie Poudre existed in Drogheda 
as late as 1835. The Mayor was the Judge 
of the court. In it he exercised the 
power of enforcing all contracts entered 
into between parties at the fairs, by 
detention of the subject of contract, and 
by such other means as he thought likely 
to enforce his authority. In this court the 
legal course of proceeding was quite dis- 
regarded. The mayor of Drogheda con- 
sidered it discretionary whether he would 

194 Municipal Government in Ireland 

have a jury or not. The later practice was 
to dispense with a jury. 

Scarcely less important than the mayors 
as officers of justice were the sheriffs ap- 
pointed by the corporations of counties of 
cities and towns. Their functions in re- 
ference to the administration of justice, 
both criminal and civil were, generally 
speaking, those of the sheriffs of counties 
at large. Their most important function, 
in reference to the public, was the return 
of jurors to Assizes and Quarter Sessions. 
The exercise of this power, especially in the 
return of grand jurors, by whom the public 
taxation of the county of the city or town 
was imposed, was a subject of much jealousy 
and well founded complaint. 

A large proportion, frequently the 
majority of the grand jurors, was em- 
panelled from the members of the governing 
corporate bodies an arrangement which, 
as those bodies were then constituted, 
practically vested and preserved in limited 
corporate councils the extensive powers of 
local taxation given by law to the grand 
juries. The composition of the grand juries 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 195 

was thus directly and effectively that of 
the corporations, and partook of their 
defects and unpopularity. The corporation 
and the Grand Jury of the City of Dublin 
afforded a striking instance of this connexion 
between the two bodies. 

In the return of petty juries on occasions 
of interest to the corporations or affecting 
their influential members or supporters, 
the sheriffs had many opportunities of 
giving an unfair advantage to those bodies 
or individuals. That those opportunities 
were availed of seems evident from the fact 
that the Legislature had found it necessary 
to enact statutes to check such abuses. 

With regard to the appointment of 
sheriffs by the municipal corporations as 
then constituted the Municipal Com- 
missioners in their Report remark : ' The 
great importance of the duties entrusted 
to sheriffs, in relation to the administration 
of justice, and the extent of interests in- 
volved in their due exercise, especially in 
the metropolis, almost demonstrate that 
such corporate bodies as we have described, 
limited in numbers, sectarian, exclusive, 

196 Municipal Government in Ireland 

and often intolerant in opinion, ought not 
to have the appointment of officers en- 
trusted with these duties. Confidence and 
faith in the impartiality of the officers and 
ministers of the laws are necessary, as well 
to insure due respect for the tribunals by 
which they are administered, as to protect 
the laws themselves from suspicion and 
contempt. That such confidence is not 
generally placed in the conduct of Cor- 
porate sheriffs in Ireland, in reference to 
the selection of juries on political occasions, 
is matter of notoriety." 

Besides the municipal courts mentioned 
there existed within the limits of several 
of the corporate towns of Ireland, manor 
courts, presided over by seneschals ap- 
pointed by the lords of the manors. These 
courts commonly derived their origin from 
the patents of the respective manors. They 
sometimes possessed powers of adjudi- 
cation to an unlimited amount. The usual 
pecuniary limit of the jurisdiction was 
10 ; in several it extended to 200. The 
administration of justice in these courts 
gave rise to much dissatisfaction. The 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 197 

judges of the Manor courts who were 
appointed by the lords of the Manor or 
their agents, were frequently men little 
qualified and otherwise unsuitable for the 
presidency of such courts. The courts 
were often held at inns and public houses, 
without regard to regularity or decorum, 
and with little observance of legal prin- 
ciple. Manor courts have been held in 
Dublin within living memory. Their 
existence is still commemorated by such 
names as "Manor Street," "Thomas 


The permanent revenue of municipal 
corporations in Ireland at this period was 
derived from either or both of two sources 
landed estates and tolls and customs. 
The incomes of very many were inconsider- 
able in amount, and insufficient for the 
due remuneration of the corporate officers, 
while the revenues of others were of large 
annual amount. 

198 Municipal Government in Ireland 

In this section of their Inquiry the 
Municipal Commissioners experienced con- 
siderable difficulty. In some instances, the 
ancient charters contained grants of the 
corporate district, or of apparently exten- 
sive portions of it, which it was then diffi- 
cult, and often impossible to define. In 
some cases they failed to trace the original 
grant or title of the corporate property. 
The state of the books and records of the 
corporations, their imperfect condition or 
total loss, the suppression of them, and the 
withholding of information in some in- 
stances, tended to involve these matters 
in considerable obscurity. The Commis- 
sioners, however, considered it apparent 
from the grants, and the other evidences 
which they had found of their ancient 
possessions, as compared with the then 
existing extent of the estates of several 
of the corporate bodies, that large portions 
of landed property, formerly given to them, 
had long since passed into other hands. 

The management of the corporate estates, 
as developed in the transactions of more 
recent periods, displayed, they stated, in 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 199 

many instances a marked disregard of the 
public interest on the part of the bodies 
under whose control they had fallen, and 
afforded evidence from which the character 
of the earlier appropriations might be 

The members of the common councils, 
or governing bodies, frequently appeared 
in the rentals of corporate property as the 
favoured grantees or lessees of long and 
valuable leases, amounting in many in- 
stances to perpetuities, at inadequate rents, 
which appeared to have been made without 
survey or advertisement, the same parties 
being thus, substantially, the lessor and 
lessee, and exercising without scruple, or 
regard to public duty or trust, in their 
own favour, a complete dominion over the 
corporate property. 

In other cases, the influential station of 
the " Patron " had been used to secure 
the appropriation, to his own use, of the 
corporate property. 

The management of the corporate re- 
venues was, almost everywhere, in the 
hands of the governing bodies ; and except 

2oo Municipal Government in Ireland 

in a few corporations, where, by the con- 
stitution, the courts or assemblies of the 
freemen were consulted for the approval 
of corporate acts, the management and 
disposition were altogether secret. By this 
secrecy of the proceedings the wholesome 
check of public opinion, and the protection 
of public vigilance over the disposition of 
the corporate funds were lost. 

In some boroughs, all corporate property 
had disappeared, and there were no funds 
applicable to the maintenance of the 
magistracy or police of the town. In other 
places, as Dublin, Londonderry and Water- 
ford, very considerable debts had been 
incurred, and were charges upon the cor- 
porate property. 

The corporations insisted at the Inquiry 
that they were entitled to the estates in 
absolute dominion, to dispose of at their 
will and pleasure, and not upon any trust 
whatever. This attitude of mind goes 
a long way towards explaining the partial 
or complete disappearance of corporate 
property in Ireland which had taken place 
before the year 1840. 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 201 

The payment of the municipal officers 
formed the chief head of expenditure in the 
greater number of the corporations pos- 
sessed of property. In some, a portion of 
the revenues was also directed to other 
purposes of local utility ; but the funds 
applicable to such purposes were generally 
very inadequate, compared with what 
would have been at the disposal of the 
municipal body under more correct manage- 
ment of the estates. 

Portions of the corporate revenues were, 
in some corporations, devoted to the sup- 
port of schools and charitable foundations. 
In a few instances, funds had been vested 
in the corporate body for charitable pur- 
poses. A flagrant example of the abuse 
of such trusts occurred in Belfast in the 
early part of the nineteenth century. 
Several benevolent individuals had, from 
time to time, entrusted to the sovereign and 
free burgesses of that borough sums of 
money, which formed by accumulation 
a considerable amount, to be applied to 
charitable purposes in the district. The 
funds were, for many years, carefully 

2O2 Municipal Government in Ireland 

managed and secured, and the income faith- 
fully disbursed. But since the beginning 
of the nineteenth century, the trusts had 
been wholly neglected, the charitable funds 
which were outstanding on securities were 
called in, and came to the hands of indivi- 
dual members of the corporation, who 
appropriated them to their own use. 


The income from tolls and customs, 
levied by municipal corporations, formed 
a very important branch of the corporate 
revenue. In several cases the receipts 
from this source were the only funds at the 
disposal of corporate bodies. The tolls 
and customs levied were divisible into two 
classes : tolls claimed originally as toll 
thorough, in consideration of services per- 
formed by the corporate bodies, in the 
repair and preservation of the streets, 
bridges, and walls of the corporate towns ; 
and tolls deriving their origin from grants 
of fairs and markets. Instances have been 
given in the earlier part of this work of 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 203 

grants of liberty to corporate towns to take 
certain tolls for limited periods, towards 
the building and repair of the town walls 
and other purposes. To a few corporations 
grants of such tolls were made in perpetuity, 
as in Galway where considerable tolls were 
collected under such title. In practice, 
however, and wrongly so, these tolls were 
claimed as belonging by prescription to the 
corporate bodies. 

The considerations for which these grants 
were made had been, according to the Com- 
missioners, almost everywhere neglected, 
some long unperformed, some imperfectly 
attended to. The occasional repairs of 
portions of the public streets, and, in some 
towns, of one or more bridges, were the 
only services of this character then per- 
formed by any of the municipal corpora- 
tions. In the great majority of corporate 
towns a large share of the expense of such 
works was defrayed by Grand J ury present- 
ments on the county at large, or on the 
corporate district, if a county of itself. 

The ancient grants generally limited the 
tolls to charges on goods coming to the cor- 

.204 Municipal Government in Ireland 

porate towns to be sold. By an Act of the 
Irish Parliament, the 25 Henry VI. c. 3, 
which recited " That many people took and 
levied customs of merchants passing and 
going with their merchandize through the 
King's highways, against right and reason," 
it was enacted, " that no man should be so 
hardy thenceforward to take or levy, or 
cause to be taken or levied, any such 
custom of merchants, or other people in 
the King's highway or elsewhere, but 
within cities, boroughs, or other merchant 
towns where the said merchandize be 
bought, or sold, or brought to be sold there, 
as they have power and sufficient authority 
to take and levy such customs." A later 
statute of Queen Anne's reign restricted 
the levying of this class of toll to cases 
where cattle or goods were driven over 
a bridge or bridges actually repaired at 
the expense of the person or body politic 
levying the toll ; and as to cattle or goods 
sold, consumed, or slaughtered in a city or 
borough the levying of toll was subject to 
the general rules of law applicable in the 
case, which required that the consideration 

Era of Municipal Misgovernment 205 

for its payment should be performed in res- 
pect of the place for the passing over which it 
was demanded. Yet, notwithstanding 
these Acts, toll thorough had been very 
generally demanded, and had been the sub- 
ject of violent opposition and litigation. 

The fair and market tolls levied by the 
corporate authorities were derived under 
grants which rarely denned specifically 
the charges to be made. They were conse- 
quently limited only by the general prin- 
ciples which would control even the express 
provisions of the charters, namely, that 
they should be reasonable in amount. 

In practice, legal principles and statutory 
enactments were alike contravened. Tolls 
excessive, and unreasonable in amount 
were frequently exacted. The mode of 
collection had been such as, combined with 
the doubts of the strict legality of the de- 
mand, to provoke a violent course of resist- 
ance. Often unjustly and illegally claimed and 
enforced, their collection had been resisted 
and encountered by violence and tumult. 
The Commissioners recommended that the 
whole system should be thoroughly revised. 


A few examples taken from the later 
history of Irish municipal corporations, 
old and new, will bring home to the reader 
the main defects of the Irish municipal 
system dealt with in the preceding chapters. 
They are taken from the special reports 
upon individual towns made by the Muni- 
cipal Commissioners of 1835. 


Enniskillen was one of those towns whose 
incorporation formed part of the plan of the 
New Plantation in Ulster. Previously to 
the charter of incorporation a grant of 
lands, including one-third part of the island 
of Enniskillen, was made by letters patent 
to one William Cole. By these letters 
patent, the grantee was bound, within four 
years, to erect a town at Enniskillen, and 

to allot houses in the town, with portions 

A Chapter of Illustrations 207 

of the lands so granted to him, to twenty 
of the new settlers, a space for a common 
for the inhabitants of the town, and sites 
for a church, a cemetery, a gaol, and a 

The grant of these letters patent was 
followed by the charter incorporating the 
borough. By this charter " All the in- 
habitants within the town and townland of 
Enniskillen and the whole island of Ennis- 
killen " were incorporated under the name 
of ' The Provost, Free Burgesses, and 
Commonalty of the Borough of Enniskillen." 
The corporation was made to consist of one 
Provost, fourteen free burgesses, and an 
indefinite commonalty. The latter were 
defined by the charter to be " all the in- 
habitants of the town, and so many and 
such men as the provost and free burgesses 
for the time being shall have admitted to 
the freedom of the borough." The Provost 
was made elective annually, out of the free 
burgesses, by the provost and free burgesses. 
It was provided by the charter that he 
should take the oath of office and the oath 
of supremacy. 

2o8 Municipal Government in Ireland 

In this corporation, as in others of a 
similar structure, the practice was to confer 
the office of provost on a small number 
of persons who held it in rotation. For 
several years it was held alternately by 
two individuals. Residence was not re- 
quired as a qualification for the office. The 
provost enjoyed a salary of 100 a year and 
the produce of certain fees. A deputy was 
at one time employed to perform the duties 
of the office at a salary of 16 a year. 

The free burgesses held their offices for 
life ; but were removable for misconduct 
by the provost and free burgesses, or the 
majority of them. In case of a vacancy , 
the charter provided that a free burgess 
should be elected by the provost and free 
burgesses, or the major part of them. No 
qualification of residence or otherwise was 
required except that of being a freeman 
of the corporation. 

In the Report upon this Corporation we 
read the following remarks regarding the 
election of the governing body, that is, 
of the provost and free burgesses : ' The 
manner in which the elections of members 

A Chapter of Illustrations 209 

and officers take place affords a strong 
illustration of the character of this body, 
and shows how much their proceedings are 
regarded as mere matters of ceremony. 
We find that a burgess has been elected at 
a meeting of the corporation consisting of 
the provost and one burgess only. And we 
find the further fact of a nomination (we 
cannot call it election) of a provost, at 
which none but the provost attended to 
nominate the provost of the succeeding 

The corporation was under the patronage 
of the Earl of Enniskillen, whose influence 
in it was paramount. All the members 
were nominated by him, or at his instance. 

The governing body at the time of the 
Inquiry consisted of 15 individuals. The 
Commissioners give a list of their names, 
showing their connexion with Lord Ennis- 
killen, which it may be well to reproduce. 
The list is as follows : 

1. The Earl of Enniskillen. 

2. Lord Cole, the patron's son. 

3. Arthur Henry Cole, the patron's 


2io Municipal Government in Ireland 

4. Richard Magennis, the patron's 


5. William Gabbett, connected by mar- 

riage with the patron. 

6. Hamilton Irvin, a friend of the pat- 

ron, major in the militia regiment 
of which the patron is Colonel. 

7. William Corry, adjutant of the 

patron's regiment. 

8. Baptist Gamble Smith, M.D., assist- 

ant surgeon of the patron's regi- 

9. Charles Ovenden, M.D., the patron's 

family physician. 

10. Adam Nixon, a friend of the patron, 

and Clerk of the Peace for the 
county, of which the patron is 
custos rotulorum. 

11. Joseph Maguire, land agent of the 


12. Rev. James Fox, friend of the patron. 

13. Rev. James Rogers, the like. 

14. Rev. Abraham Hamilton, the like. 

15. Richard Deane, the like. 

Of these fifteen members only four were 
resident in the town. 

A Chapter of Illustrations 211 

This borough returned two members to 
the Irish House of Commons. It is easy to 
understand that, constituted as it was, the 
nominees of the Cole family were assured 
of a safe return. One member was retained 
at the Union ; and no compensation was 
consequently received. 

Outside of the select body consisting of 
the provost and free burgesses, little power 
was ever exercised by the general body 
of inhabitants of Enniskillen. Notwith- 
standing that the charter of incorporation 
made the commonalty who were denned 
to be " all the inhabitants of the town, and 
so many and such men as the provost and 
free burgesses for the time being shall have 
admitted to the freedom of the borough " 
a constituent part of the corporate body, 
the general body of inhabitants were ex- 
cluded from a share in the administration 
of municipal affairs. The corporate records 
showed that from an early period the provost 
and free burgesses had exercised a dis- 
cretionary and absolute power of admitting 
to freedom or refusing it. No right of 
freedom, founded on inhabitancy or on 

212 Municipal Government in Ireland 

birth, servitude, marriage, or any other title 
was recognised. Out of a population of 
over 6,000 inhabitants, there were in the 
year 1835, only fifteen freemen, besides the 
Provost and free burgesses. All of these 
freemen had been admitted by grace especial. 
The charter of this corporation created a 
Court of Record, with civil jurisdiction 
to the amount of five marks (3 6s. 8d. 
Irish) within the borough, to be held before 
the Provost weekly. This court in the 
later stage of its career was of little practical 
utility to the town. Very little business 
was done in it. One of the chief grounds of 
objection to it arose from the constitution 
of its juries. They were exclusively Pro- 
testant, and were composed, for the most 
part, of persons of low condition. The 
juries were selected by the Recorder, who 
was at once Town Clerk and registrar of 
the Borough Court. Eighteen persons were 
usually summoned to attend. Those who 
answered the summons were usually pension- 
ers, and persons having little or no business 
of their own to attend to, and to whom it was 
worth while to devote a few hours for the sake 

A Chapter of Illustrations 213 

of the fees which were allowed them. Grave 
dissatisfaction and distrust of the tribunal 
existed among the Roman Catholics who 
were stated to comprise more than half of 
the population of Enniskillen. The con- 
duct and ignorance of the juries were 
likewise subjects of complaint. 

If the existence of the borough court 
was of little utility to the inhabitants of 
Enniskillen that of the corporation, as it 
was then composed, was positively harm- 
ful. A remarkable instance of the culpable 
ignorance of the governing body in their 
management of the corporate property 
was brought to light at the inquiry into the 
state of this corporation. It was proved 
to the satisfaction of the commissioners 
that the corporation of Enniskillen had 
enjoyed for upwards of two centuries a 
grant in perpetuity from Sir William Cole, 
the original patentee of the corporate 
district, of the tolls of the fair and markets 
of Enniskillen at an annual rent of 7 los.od. 
Yet in the year 1826 the corporation applied 
for and accepted from Lord Enniskillen, a 
descendant of Sir William Cole, a lease of 

214 Municipal Government in Ireland 

the same tolls for a period of ten years at 
the annual rent of 10 ! Comment upon 
such action is superfluous. 

In justice to the memory of the then 
Earl of Enniskillen, however, it must be 
stated that his lordship seems to have acted 
in good faith in the matter. 

The tolls of Enniskillen were at one time 
farmed out by the year, but owing to re- 
sistance to their collection being made, the 
corporation had to resume their collection. 
The course adopted in levying the custom 
on cattle at the fairs was stated to be as 
follows : Twenty-one men, in all, were 
employed by the corporation, under the 
superintendence of the collector, to stand 
at the " gaps," that is, at the places of 
entrance and exit of the fairs. At each 
gap there was a bench, on which a book 
was placed, and when the cattle approached 
to be driven out, the person in charge of 
them, if he did not pay custom, was 
required, in order to attest the truth of his 
declaration that the cattle had not been 
sold, to touch the book. This was con- 
sidered equivalent to an oath. The prac- 

A Chapter of Illustrations 215 

tice was called " clearing or paying," each 
person being obliged either to " clear," by 
touching the book, or to " pay " the custom. 
This mode of collection was illegal, the 
corporation having no power to impose an 
oath for such a purpose. Violent resistance 
to the collection of the tolls was made by 
the frequenters of the fairs. 

As the corporation of Enniskillen were 
so completely under the control of the 
patron, the Earl of Enniskillen, and were so 
utterly devoid of responsibility to the 
inhabitants of the town the Commissioners 
suggested that, as the Earl was manifestly 
desirous that the funds of the corporation 
should be applied for public purposes, it 
would be better that he should manage the 
funds directly by himself or his agent, 
applying them under his own scrutiny to 
purposes of public utility, than that he 
should interpose between himself and the 
execution of his own intentions " a body, 
unfit from their constitution to devise and 
execute useful plans with prudence and 
economy, and not stimulated, either by 
interest or a sense of responsibility, to 

216 Municipal Government in Ireland 

watchfulness or vigour." To what a sorry 
pass must the municipal government of 
this plantation town have come, when 
such a suggestion by His Majesty's Com- 
missioners was possible ! 

In the concluding portion of their Report 
the Commissioners stated : "In those other 
matters of municipal regulation which, 
in most populous places, form the chief 
objects of care to efficient local authorities, 
the corporation of Enniskillen does abso- 
lutely nothing. It supplies no magistracy, 
it provides no police, it maintains no gaol, it 
furnishes no nightly watch, it forms no 
provision and makes no contribution for 
the paving, the lighting, or the cleansing 
of the town. In short, it performs ade- 
quately no function, and it is calculated to 
perform few (and these not the functions 
of most importance) by which a municipal 
body, useful and efficient, can administer 
to the order, the comforts, and the well- 
being of the community placed under its 


Strabane was another of the places whose 

A Chapter of Illustrations 217 

incorporation formed part of the plan of the 
New Plantation in Ulster. An allotment 
of " proportions " of escheated lands in the 
" Precinct of Strabane " was made to a 
number of Scottish undertakers, chief 
amongst whom were the Earl of Abercorn 
and other members of the Hamilton family. 
In a document recorded in the Calendar 
of the Carew MSS., under date July, 
1611, the following reference to works 
done in this precinct is made : " The Earl 
of Abercorne, chief undertaker in the 
precinct in the county of Tyrone, has taken 
possession, resident with lady and family, 
and built for the present near the town of 
Strabane some large timber houses, with a 
court 116 foot in length and 87 foot in 
breadth, the groundsills of oaken timber 
and the rest of ' Allor ' and birch, which is 
well thatched with heath and finished. 
Has built a great brew house without his 
court 46 foot long and 25 foot wide. His 
followers and tenants have, since May last, 
built 28 houses of fair copies ; and before 
May by his tenants who are all Scottish- 
men, the number of 32 houses of like 

218 Municipal Government in Ireland 

goodness. Is preparing materials for 
building a fair castle and a bawn which he 
means to put in hand for the next spring. 
There are 120 cows in stock for his own 
use. Sir Thomas Boyde, Knt., has a 
proportion of land, is resident with his wife 
and family, is providing materials for 
building. Sir George Hamilton, Knt., a 
proportion of land, resident with wife 
and family. Has built a good house of 
timber for the present 62 foot long and 30 
foot wide. He brought over some families 
of Scots who have built them a bawn and 
good timber houses, 80 cows and 16 garrons 
among them. Sir John Dumonde, Knt., 
1,000 acres ; appeared in person ; took 
possession and has one Scottishman, 2 
garrons, and a mare. James Clapham, 
1,000 acres, resident, prepares to people 
his land, competent store of arms in 
readiness. James Hayge, 1,500 acres ; has 
not appeared nor any for him ; nothing 
done. Sir Claude Hamylton, Knt., a pro- 
portion 2,000 acres, has not appeared nor 
any for him, and nothing done. George 
Hamilton, 1,000 acres ; has taken poss 

A Chapter of Illustrations 219 

sion, is resident, making provisions for 

To the infant colony at Strabane King 
James granted in the year 1613 a charter 
of incorporation whereby " all the in- 
habitants " of the corporate district were 
incorporated under the title of " The 
Provost, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of 
the Borough of Strabane." 

A few years later, we are enabled to trace 
the gradual growth of the town and the 
peopling of the surrounding district. In 
the years 1618-1619 a survey of the plan- 
tation of Ulster was made by Nicholas 
Pynnar. The results are embodied in " A 
Book of the Plantation of Ulster," an 
important historical document included in 
the collection of MSS. referred to. The 
following notes with reference to the Pre- 
cinct of Strabane occur therein : ' Earl of 
Abercorne 1,000 acres called Strobawne. 
A fair castle and very strong, but no bawn, 
a school house of lime and stone, also a 
church in building, walls about 5 foot high, 
but has been at a stand ever since the late 
Earl died. Also about the castle is a 

220 Municipal Government in Ireland 

town of 80 houses, many of lime and stone, 
strongly built, and many other good 
timber houses. In these 120 families, 
make 200 men, each having arms. 3 
watermills for corn. Planted with British : 

1 of 120 acres, 5 of 60 apiece, i of 120 acres, 

2 of 60 apiece, 3 of 40 apiece. Townmen, 
53. Each has a house and garden plot, 
with some land, mostly merchants and 
tradesmen with some cottagers. In toto 
65 families of 180 men." 

The town of Strabane gradually grew in 
size and its population in numbers. In 
1833 the inhabitants numbered 4,700 and 
the houses 836. Dominated as the town 
was by the castle of the Earl of Abercorn, 
and planted with his adherents, it is not 
to be wondered at that the government 
and Parliamentary representation of Stra- 
bane fell under the complete dominion of 
the Earl and his descendants. 

By the charter of King James the cor- 
poration was made to consist of one provost, 
twelve free burgesses, and a commonalty 
indefinite in number. The provost was 
made elective annually on the 24th of 

A Chapter of Illustrations 221 

June, out of the free burgesses, by the 
provost and free burgesses, or the major 
part of them. If there were not an election 
on the charter-day the provost continued 
to hold his office until there was a new 

The manner of electing the Provost of 
Strabane afforded a striking illustration 
of the influence exercised in an Irish 
Municipal Corporation by its " Patron." 
We shall describe the mode of election in the 
words of the Commissioners who inquired 
into the state of the borough of Strabane. 
' The practice," they said, " has been, for 
a long series of years, generally (but not 
always) to appoint to the office of provost 
the agent of the Marquis of Abercorn, the 
patron of the borough. The gentleman 
who was provost at the time of the holding 
of our Inquiry had filled the office for 23 
years, during the whole of which time he 
was the agent of the patron. It being 
understood that, with the concurrence of 
the Abercorn family, he should be provost, 
it was deemed unnecessary to convene 
meetings of the burgesses for the purposes 

222 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of election. The course adopted was, that 
the recorder and provost attended at the 
town hall, between the hours of 12 and 2 
o'clock on the day when a meeting ought 
regularly to take place ; an entry was then 
made in the books that a sufficient number 
of free burgesses did not attend to elect 
a provost, and the provost, as a matter 
of course, continued to hold his office for 
the succeeding year. During the 23 years 
during which the provost whom we found 
in office has presided over the corporation 
he was only twice elected first in 1810, 
and afterwards in 1824." 

In 1833 a new agent was appointed over 
the Abercorn property. Like his prede- 
cessor he was in due course " elected " 
Provost of Strabane. 

In this corporation the practice prevailed 
of requiring the Provost to take, in addition 
to his oath of office, the oaths of 
supremacy and abjuration. He also 
signed the declaration against transub- 
stantiation. The charter required the 
provost, in addition to the oath of office, 
to take the oath of supremacy only. 

A Chapter of Illustrations 223 

The Provost enjoyed asalary of 70 a 

The Free Burgesses, twelve in number, 
were directed by the charter to be elected 
out of the " better and more honest in- 
habitants of the borough " by the provost 
and free burgesses, or the major part of 
them. In effect, the free burgesses were 
nominated by the Marquis of Abercorn 
or his agent. 

The commonalty, according to the charter 
was to consist of " all the inhabitants, and 
such other men whom the provost and free 
burgesses of the borough for the time being 
should admit to the freedom of the borough. " 
In practice, all freemen were admitted by 
the provost and free burgesses. 

A Common Council consisting of provost, 
free burgesses, and freemen at one time 
exercised important functions in this cor- 
poration, notably in the making of bye- 
laws. At a later period, it had ceased to 
exist as a body exercising corporate func- 

The freemen never possessed political 
power. In the year 1833 they were few in 

224 Municipal Government in Ireland 

number, and enjoyed no municipal power, 
nor any privilege, save that of having their 
goods weighed, without charge at the 
public crane. 

The Corporation was of an exclusive 
character, no Roman Catholic being a 
member of any of its classes. Shortly 
before the date of the Inquiry, it was 
proposed to two Roman Catholics that they 
should become freemen, but they declined 
the honour. 

The borough of Strabane was represented 
in the Irish House of Commons by two 
members, elected according to the charter 
by the provost and free burgesses. In 
practice, the nominees of the " Patron " 
were elected. When the borough was dis- 
franchised as a result of the Union, the 
sum of 15,000 " compensation " was paid 
to the " Patron " for the loss of political 
power and influence thus occasioned. 


The corporation of Waterford is one of the 
most ancient in Ireland, its earliest charter 

A Chapter of Illustrations 225 

bearing date 1205, the seventh year of the 
reign of King John. As already mentioned, 
the liberties and franchises of the citizens 
were seized into the hands of King James I. 
the penalty for the steadfast adherence of 
the citizens to their old faith and were 
restored to the citizens by Charles I. 
" with such alterations and omissions as 
had been advised of to that end " on their 
payment of the sum of twenty thousand 
marks. The charter of restoration, bearing 
date 26th May, 1626, remained until the 
year 1840 the governing charter of this 

Under this charter a Common Council 
consisting of the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen, 
and assistants was constituted for the 
government of the city, with power to 
make bye laws and levy taxes for the main- 
tenance of the civic government. The 
mayor was to be elected from among the 
aldermen ; the sheriffs and aldermen from 
among the assistants ; and the assistants 
from among the freemen. 

The freedom of this corporation was 
obtained by the rights of birth, marriage, 

226 Municipal Government in Ireland 

and servitude, and by grace especial. All 
the inhabitants possessed of any one of the 
rights mentioned were not, however, ad- 
mitted to the freedom of the corporation. 
In the later stages of its history, admission 
to freedom had become greatly restricted. 
The freemen possessed the valuable right 
of voting for members of Parliament to 
represent the city. They were not admitted 
to the exercise of any other corporate power. 
The freemen of this corporation, however, 
remained in enjoyment down to modern 
times of an ancient privilege, that of freedom 
from tolls and customs throughout the 
King's lands and dominions. From Water- 
ford tolls, as long as they were collec- 
ted, the freemen were of course free. 
As late as the thirties of the last century 
Waterford freemen enjoyed freedom from 
certain dues at Liverpool and Bridgwater^ 
a valuable privilege in certain trades. 
But because the acquisition of freedom in 
this corporation was an object of desire 
and worth, the Common Council of the 
city restricted the granting of it to a 
favoured few. 

A Chapter of Illustrations 227 

Of a share in the civic government the 
freemen had none. The Common Council 
a body of forty members was a close 
corporation. The Common Councilmen 
filled the vacancies in their own body. So 
complete was the exclusion of the freemen 
that they were not considered as forming a 
part of the corporate body. 

The Common Council itself fell for a time 
completely under the dominion of a few 
individuals known as the " leaders " of 
the corporation. These men assumed the 
entire government of the corporation and 
arrogated to themselves the power of filling 
up the various corporate offices according 
to their will and pleasure. In order to 
avoid friction or disagreement between 
themselves with regard to these important 
matters the " leaders " entered into a 
written compact in the year 1818. A copy 
of this document was produced in evidence 
at the Municipal Corporations Inquiry. 

The parties to this remarkable document 
were the Right Honourable Sir John New- 
port, Bart., and William Newport, Esquire, 
of the one part, and Harry Alcock and 

228 Municipal Government in Ireland 

James Wallace, Esquires, of the other part. 
Under this agreement Messieurs Alcock and 
Wallace pledged themselves to support 
Sir John Newport for the representation 
of the city of Waterford, during the latter 's 
lifetime, or for such time as he should 
consider himself capable of efficiently dis- 
charging the duties of that office. At the 
expiration of either event Mr. Alcock was 
to be supported by every exertion of the 
Newport family and their friends, in the 
future representation of the city, during the 
life of the said Mr. Alcock. Should it 
happen, however, that Mr. Alcock should 
die before he should be " entitled to repre- 
sent said city," or to become a candidate 
according to the tenor of the agreement, 
then the said James Wallace should 
nominate the candidate who should be 
supported for the representation of the 
city for life, on the joint interest of both 
parties. After the death of the said Harry 
Alcock, or such other representative, the 
Newport family were to nominate the next 
candidate for a period of five years, then 
the other contracting party and their 

A Chapter of Illustrations 229 

successors to nominate for the next five 
years, and so on alternately for ever. 

Having thus arranged to their own satis- 
faction for the .representation in Parlia- 
ment of Waterford City, the contracting 
parties agreed that they should elect alter- 
nately to the office of mayor, that vacancies 
amongst the aldermen should be so filled 
as to ensure an equal representation of both 
parties, and that the Alcock party should 
" fill up their own vacancies of council- 
men," and the Newport family " their own 
and Bol ton's." The various corporate 
offices were then classified and an equal 
distribution of patronage mutually agreed 
upon. It was further agreed that the 
mastership of the Leper Hospital and that 
of the Holy Ghost Hospital should be 
filled alternately by the nominees of the 
respective parties. Not even the Church 
escaped from the far spreading net of the 
Newport-Alcock combine. The compact 
provided that the church livings should be 
disposed of in a separate class, and that the 
first appointment which should occur 
should be disposed of by lot. 

230 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Such was the influence of the Newport 
party and of the Alcock- Wallace party in 
Waterford that they were able to impose 
this extraordinary arrangement upon the 
supine Common Council. For several years 
the Council sanctioned whatever was 
directed by the heads of these two parties. 

At last, in the year 1830 the Common 
Council shook off the yoke. By a series 
of resolutions passed at a meeting of the 
mayor and Council it was decided to resume 
into their own hands the management and 
control of civic affairs. The domination 
of the " leaders " was accordingly ter- 


The later history of the city of Limerick 
affords another striking illustration of the 
evils attendant upon the corrupt system 
of municipal government which prevailed 
in Ireland since the Stuart period. 

In the year 1671, pursuant to the pro- 
visions of the Act of Explanation, " New 
Rules " were made for the government of 

A Chapter of Illustrations 231 

the corporation of Limerick. By the first 
of these, the approbation of the Lord 
Lieutenant and Council was made necessary 
to the appointment to the corporate offices 
of mayor, sheriffs, recorder and town clerk, 
within ten days after their election. By the 
second, the oath of supremacy was required 
from all such corporate officers. By the 
third, the election of all corporate officers 
was taken away from the body of freemen, 
and vested in the Common Council, and 
nothing permitted to be discussed in the 
general assembly of freemen, or Court of 
D'Oyer Hundred, which had not previously 
passed the Common Council. And, by the 
fourth, the admission of foreigners and 
Protestant settlers in the city of Limerick 
to the freedom of the corporation was pro- 
vided for as in other corporate towns in 
Ireland. The corporation of Limerick was 
thus definitely given that sectarian char- 
acter which prevailed until the reform of 
municipal government in Ireland in the 
year 1840. 

The government of this important city 
during the eighteenth century seems to 

232 Municipal Government in Ireland 

have fallen exclusively into the hands of 
the Common Council, a self-elected body 
consisting of the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen, 
and burgesses. The condition and conduct 
of this body were made the subject of inves- 
tigation before a committee of the Irish 
House of Commons in the year 1761. In 
the Report to the House the following 
references to the general proceedings of this 
body occur : 

" That it appears to the committee from 
the books and accounts of the said cor- 
poration, that the mayor and common 
council of the city have, for several years 
past, taken upon themselves to dispose 
of the whole revenues of the said corpora- 
tion, and the greatest part thereof amongst 
a few members of the said council, without 
the approbation of the Court of D'Oyer 

" That the mayor and common council 
of the city had taken upon them to demise 
the greatest part of the estates of the said 
corporation to some members of the common 
council for 999 years, and to other members 
of the said councils for ever, for trifling rents. 

A Chapter of Illustrations 233 

' That it appeared to the committee, 
from the books and accounts of the cor- 
poration, that the mayor and common 
council of the said city had, for several 
years past, misapplied and wasted the 
greater part of the revenues of the city. 

' That it appeared to the committee that 
the mayor and council had taken upon them 
to make a lease for ever, at a trifling rent, 
to Alderman Arthur Roche, of the greatest 
part of the hospital lands, which were 
before constantly enjoyed by the cor- 
poration for the use of the poor. 

' That it appeared to the committee 
that the said Arthur Roche had acquired 
so great an influence and power in the 
common council, that no person could be 
admitted a freeman, or common council- 
man, or magistrate, but through his interest ; 
and that he prevented some gentlemen, who 
had served the office of sheriff in the city, 
and against whom he admitted there was 
no objection, from being admitted common 
councilmen, though having served such 
office was the usual recommendation to 
that board. 

234 Municipal Government in Ireland 

' That it was the opinion of the com- 
mittee, that the interposition of Parliament 
was absolutely necessary for redressing the 
said several grievances and abuses, and for 
preventing the like for the future." 

Consequent upon this Report, a Bill 
for the better government of the corpora- 
tion of Limerick was prepared and trans- 
mitted to England by the Lord Lieutenant 
and Privy Council with the usual recom- 
mendation in its favour, but it never reached 
the status of an Act of Parliament. 

From this time onward the influence of 
the above-named Alderman Arthur Roche 
declined, and finally gave place to the more 
powerful interests of the families of Pery 
and Smyth ; which families were repre- 
sented at a later period by the Earl of 
Limerick and Lord Viscount Gort respec- 
tively. The Smyth family finally gained 
predominance in the Common Council. 
John Prendergast Smyth, afterwards Lord 
Gort, was appointed to the important 
office of chamberlain of the corporation, 
holding it for many years until his death 
in the year 1817. He was succeeded in the 

A Chapter of Illustrations 235 

office by the next Lord Gort who held it 
until the year 1823. The influence suc- 
cessively possessed by these noblemen was 
such that all admissions to freedom and 
appointments to corporate offices were 
generally made on their proposition and 
nomination, which were acceded to, appa- 
rently as a matter of course, by the Common 
Council without discussion. 

In the years 1832 and 1833 the mayor 
of Limerick was the eldest son of Lord 
Gort. In 1834 that important office was 
held by his nephew, and of the two principal 
permanent offices of emolument in the cor- 
poration, those of weighmaster and water- 
bailiff, the former was held by his brother 
and the latter by his eldest son. Of the 
sixty-eight members of the Council in this 
year ten were members or connexions of his 
Lordship's family. 

The composition of the Council at this 
period was not calculated to ensure public 
confidence. Regulating the municipal 
affairs of a wealthy trading community, 
nine-tenths of whom were Roman Catholics, 
the Council did not contain a member 

236 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of the Chamber of Commerce, a respectable 
merchant, nor a Roman Catholic, nor did 
any such hold office under the corporation. 

The foregoing examples drawn from the 
history of individual corporations in Ire- 
land, both old and new, sufficiently illus- 
trate the low state of public morality which 
prevailed in the management of municipal 
affairs in Ireland in the eighteenth and 
early nineteenth centuries. The system 
of municipal government had become bank- 
rupt of all possibility of conducing to the 
welfare of the inhabitants of Irish cities 
and towns. Diverted from its true end 
of promoting the welfare of the governed, 
it had been turned to the baser use of for- 
warding the selfish interests of a narrow 
political and sectarian class. 

We shall conclude this chapter wHh the 
closing remarks of the Municipal Commis- 
sioners made in their Report to His Majesty 
King William IV. in the year 1835. " The 
Corporations " they stated, " have long 

A Chapter of Illustrations 237 

become unpopular, and objects of suspicion. 
As at present constituted, they are, in many 
instances, of no service to the community ; 
in other, injurious ; in all, insufficient 
and inadequate to the proper purposes 
and ends of such institutions. The public 
distrust in them attaches on their officers 
and nominees ; and the result is a failure 
of that respect for, and confidence in, the 
ministers of justice and police, which ought 
to subsist in well-regulated communities, 
which, where they do exist, conduce so 
much to the peace and good order of society, 
and without which the authority of the 
law may be dreaded, but cannot be respected 
or effective .... We feel it to 
be cur duty humbly to represent to 
Your Majesty that the early and effectual 
correction of the existing evils, and the 
prevention of future mischief, are anxiously 
desired, and essentially requisite ; and that 
these benefits can be attained, only, by 
means of a general and complete Reform 
of the constitutions of the Municipal Cor- 
porations in Ireland." 



The Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 
1840 marks the beginning of a new epoch 
in Irish Municipal History. It completely 
revolutionised the system of municipal 
government in Ireland. The old corpora- 
tions were swept away and in their place 
were set up municipal corporations sub- 
stantially the same as we know them to-day. 
As the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 
had in a large measure transferred the 
control of matters of State from the classes 
to the masses, so the Municipal Corporations 
Acts of Great Britain and Ireland trans- 
ferred the control of municipal affairs from 
small self-elected cliques to the general 
body of inhabitants. 

Fifty-eight municipal corporations in 
Ireland were dissolved by the Act. In 
ten of the more important cities and towns, 
namely : Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, 


Reform of Municipal Corporations 239 

Waterford, Londonderry, Sligo, Kilkenny, 
Drogheda, and Clonmel the municipal cor- 
porations were preserved. In these bor- 
oughs, however, it was provided that the 
corporate powers should be exercised by 
Councils elected on a popular basis as 
prescribed by the Act. The corporate 
bodies of the boroughs were to take and 
bear the name of the Mayor, Aldermen 
and Burgesses of the respective boroughs, 
except in Dublin, the corporation of which 
was to bear the name of " the Right Hon- 
ourable the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and 
Burgesses of Dublin," and by those names 
have perpetual succession. The body cor- 
porate of each of these important boroughs 
was declared capable in law, by the Council 
elected in pursuance of the Act, of doing 
and suffering all acts which the body cor- 
porate theretofore subsisting in each such 
borough lawfully might do and suffer, and 
was declared entitled to, invested with and 
possessed of all the lawful franchises, rights, 
trusts, powers, authorities, properties and 
estates then or of late vested in or belonging, 
or which of right ought to belong to such 

240 Municipal Government in Ireland 

borough or body corporate. The corporate 
rights and powers hitherto enjoyed accord- 
ingly remained unaffected save so far as 
they were inconsistent with the terms of the 

The Act empowered the Queen upon a 
petition received from the inhabitants of 
any town in Ireland the population of which 
at the date of the last Census exceeded 
3,000 (a qualification which would include 
the great majority of the boroughs whose 
corporations had been dissolved) and signed 
by a majority of such inhabitants as should 
be rated to the relief of the destitute poor, 
to grant a charter of incorporation to such 
town extending to the inhabitants thereof 
within the district set forth in such charter, 
the powers and provisions in the Act con- 

It is a remarkable fact that out of the 
many Irish towns qualified according to the 
Act to apply for a charter of incorporation 
only one town, namely Wexford, has done 

In many of the boroughs whose cor- 
porations were dissolved by the Act, there 

Reform of Municipal Corporations 241 

were in existence bodies of Commissioners 
elected under the Act of 9 Geo. IV. already 
mentioned, namely, " An Act to make 
provision for the lighting, cleansing, and 
watching of Cities, Towns Corporate, and 
Market Towns in Ireland." The institution 
of these Commissioners had been rendered 
necessary, as before mentioned, by the 
almost complete neglect of their most 
important functions by the old Irish cor- 
porate bodies. 

Where such bodies of Commissioners 
existed the Act provided that the real 
and personal estate of the bodies corporate 
dissolved should vest in the Commissioners 
until such charter of incorporation should 
be at any time thereafter granted. The 
rents and profits of the old corporate 
estates were to be applied by the Commis- 
sioners in defraying the charges thereon 
and in aid of the rates levied by them under 
the Act of 1828, the surplus, if any, to be 
applied for the public benefit of the in- 
habitants and improvement of the borough 
until such charter should be granted. 

With regard to the remaining boroughs 


242 Municipal Government in Ireland 

whose corporations had been dissolved and 
wherein no Commissioners under the Act 
of 1828 were in existence, a classification 
was made according to the annual value 
of the corporate property. In towns where 
the annual value of such property exceeded 
/ioo " Municipal Commissioners " were to 
be appointed in whom such property was 
to vest pending the grant of a charter of 
incorporation or the appointment of Com- 
missioners under the Act of 9 Geo. IV. c. 82. 
One such " Municipal Commissioner " was 
to be elected for every 500 inhabitants. 
In towns where the annual value of the 
corporate property was less than 100 such 
property was to vest in the Guardians of the 
Poor of the Union wherein such town was 
situate pending a grant of a charter of 
incorporation or the appointment of Com- 
missioners under the Act of 1828. 

It may be of interest to note here that a 
large number of Irish towns were governed 
for many years by Commissioners elected 
under the Act of 1828. Even as late as the 
passing of the Local Government (Ireland) 
Act in 1898 two Irish towns, namely, 

Reform of Municipal Corporations 243 

Monaghan and Wicklow, were so governed. 

The most important part of the Municipal 
Corporations Act was that which related 
to the constitution of the new governing 
Councils to be set up in pursuance of the 
Act in corporate cities and towns and to 
the constitution of the " Municipal Com- 
missioners " to be appointed in other places 
pending the grant of a charter of incor- 

For a period extending considerably over 
two centuries, a period inaugurated by 
King James I. the primary principle of 
municipal government, namely that the 
local affairs of the cities and towns should 
be administered in the interests of the 
inhabitants by their own freely elected 
councils and officers, had remained in utter 
abeyance in Ireland. The period of muni- 
cipal misgovernment which had been 
ushered in in the reign of the first Stuart 
King of Ireland during which every prin- 
ciple of local self-government was cast to 
the winds was finally terminated by this 
Act. To the inhabitants of Irish cities 
and towns there was restored their ancient 

244 Municipal Government in Ireland 

right of electing councils for the conduct 
of their own local affairs. 

The Act prescribed that every person 
qualified as hereafter mentioned should be 
a burgess of any borough then or subse- 
quently incorporated in respect to which 
he had the necessary qualifications and a 
member of the body corporate of the Mayor, 
Aldermen, and Burgesses of such borough, 
or in the case of unincorporated towns 
should be eligible to vote at the election of 
" Municipal Commissioners." In passing, 
it may be remarked that the fact that every 
burgess is a member of the corporate body 
of his borough is generally overlooked. 
The municipal corporations of Irish cities 
and towns are generally, though wrongly, 
regarded as identical with the Municipal 
Councils by which such corporations exer- 
cise the powers vested in them by charter, 
statute, or otherwise. If this fact were 
brought home to our Irish citizens and 
burgesses there would be less apathy with 
regard to, and more interest taken in, 
municipal affairs. 

Every man of full age who on the 3ist 

Reform of Municipal Corporations 245 

day of August in any year should be an 
inhabitant householder and should have 
been resident as such for six calendar 
months within the borough or within seven 
statute miles thereof and who should occupy 
within the borough any house, warehouse, 
counting-house or shop which either sepa- 
rately or jointly with any land within such 
borough occupied by him as tenant or 
occupied therewith by him as owner should 
be of the yearly value of not less than 10, 
to be ascertained and determined in the 
manner prescribed by the Act, was declared 
to be a burgess or eligible to vote at the 
election of " Municipal Commissioners." Pro- 
vided always that no such occupier should be 
admitted to be enrolled as a burgess or to 
vote at any election of " Municipal Com- 
missioners " under the Act, unless he should 
have been rated in respect of such premises 
to the relief of the poor, and should have 
occupied such premises for twelve calendar 
months at least next preceding such last day 
of August, and provided such occupier should 
on or before the sist day of August in 
such year have paid or discharged all rates 

246 Municipal Government in Ireland 

for the relief of the poor, and all Grand 
Jury or Municipal Cesses, and all rates and 
taxes which should have become payable 
by him in respect of such premises during 
his occupation thereof except such as should 
have become payable within three calendar 
months next before the said 3ist day of 

In every Borough then incorporated, 
or to which a charter of incorporation should 
thereafter be granted pursuant to the Act 
there were to be elected one fit person who 
should be and be called "The Mayor" of such 
borough, and in the different wards of every 
such borough, a certain number of fit persons 
who should be and be called " The Alder- 
men " of such borough, and likewise a 
certain number of fit persons who should 
be and be called 'The Councillors" of 
such borough. The numbers of the alder- 
men and councillors were either prescribed 
by the Act or were to be prescribed in the 
charters of incorporation which should 
thereafter be granted. The Mayor, Alder- 
men and Councillors should be and be called 
" The Council " of such borough. In the 

Reform of Municipal Corporations 247 

Council thus elected was vested the control 
of the local administration. Where " Muni- 
cipal Commissioners " were constituted in a 
borough the Act prescribed that one fit 
person should be elected who should be and 
be called " The Chairman of the Municipal 
Commissioners " of such borough. 

Eligibility for the offices of Alderman, 
Councillor or Commissioner depended upon 
a higher qualification than that prescribed 
for a burgess or voter. In the more 
important cities and towns of Ireland, the 
corporations of which had been preserved 
by the Act, a candidate for municipal office 
should be on the burgess roll and possessed 
of property, real or personal, of the value 
of 1,000 over and above his debts or should 
be the occupier of a house rated at 25 
per annum to the relief of the poor. In 
boroughs which should be subsequently 
incorporated a lower property qualification 
was prescribed. 

Certain disqualifications for office were 
prescribed by the Act. Clerks in Holy 
Orders and Dissenting Ministers were 
declared ineligible. Holders of offices of 

248 Municipal Government in Ireland 

profit under Councils or Commissioners, 
uncertificated bankrupts, and persons hav- 
ing an interest, either directly or through 
partners, in contracts with Councils or 
Commissioners, were likewise declared in- 

The burgesses or voters in each ward 
were to vote for the Aldermen and Coun- 
cillors of their respective wards. One- 
fourth of those elected, namely, the can- 
didates who received the greater number 
of votes were to be " the Aldermen," the 
remaining three-fourths "the Councillors " 
of their respective wards. 

In order to provide for a certain con- 
tinuity in the conduct of municipal affairs 
and at the same time to ensure that muni- 
cipal bodies should represent the opinions 
of the electorate, it was prescribed that 
one-third part of the Councillors should go 
out of office annually, their places to be 
supplied by election, and that one-half 
of the Aldermen should go out of office every 
three years, their places being similarly 
filled. Outgoing Aldermen and Councillors 
were declared capable of re-election. 

Reform of Municipal Corporations 249 

The Act prescribed that the Mayor of 
each Borough was to be elected by " The 
Council " out of the Aldermen and Coun- 
cillors and hold office for one year. Just 
as in the old Corporations the Mayor or 
other principal officer was the chief magis- 
trate during his year of office, so in the new 
Corporations it was prescribed that the 
Mayor should be a Justice of the Peace for 
the Borough and have precedence therein. 

In the following counties of cities or 
towns, namely, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, 
Waterford, Galway, Drogheda, Kilkenny 
and Carrickfergus the Lord Lieutenant of 
Ireland was empowered to appoint the 
Sheriff. By a subsequent Act the nomi- 
nation of the Sheriff was restored to the 
Municipal Councils, with the proviso that 
a list of three names should be submitted 
to the Lord Lieutenant from which he 
should select the Sheriff. 

With regard to the conduct of business 
the Act prescribed that questions were to 
be decided by a majority of the members 
present, the number present not being less 
than one-third of the whole. 

250 Municipal Government in Ireland 

The Councils were empowered to, appoint 
Committees for purposes which would be 
better regulated and managed by means 
of such Committees. Provided, however, 
that the acts of such Committees should be 
submitted to their respective Councils for 
approval. This excellent sub-division of 
corporate business instituted by the Act 
of 1840 still prevails. 

The income of Municipal Corporations 
under the Act was derived partly from 
municipal property transmitted to them 
from their predecessors, partly from the 
proceeds of fines and tolls, and partly from 
rates levied by them under the Act, and 
strictly limited thereby. 

The Council of any Borough established 
by or pursuant to the Act was empowered 
to make bye laws for the good rule and 
government of the Borough, and for the 
prevention and suppression of all nuisances 
as were not already punishable under any 
Act already in force in such Borough. 

The Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act, 
of which a brief summary of the leading 
provisions has been given, thus dealt 

Reform of Municipal Corporations 251 

almost exclusively with the constitution 
of Irish corporate bodies. It was prac- 
tically silent as to the rights and privileges 
of these bodies save so far as it prescribed 
that corporate rights and privileges hitherto 
enjoyed should remain unaffected unless 
where inconsistent with the terms of the 
Act. A clean sweep was made by the Act 
of the old irresponsible governing bodies 
which had so long battened upon the 
inhabitants of Irish cities and towns, 
pursuing their own selfish purposes to the 
utter neglect of the welfare of the people 
over whom they ruled. The cleansing of 
the Augean stable had at length taken 


The next important Act in the history 
of Irish municipal government was " The 
Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act " of 
1854, J 7 an d J 8 Vic. c. 103. Under this 
Act many Irish towns are still governed. 
The Act was rendered necessary by the 
growing complexity of urban life and by 
the gradual realisation of the duties owed 
by the governing bodies of towns to the 
communities under their charge. The 
powers and duties of urban authorities had 
been left in doubt by the Municipal Cor- 
porations Act of 1840 which concerned 
itself chiefly with the constitution of muni- 
cipal bodies. In a number of Irish towns 
certain essential functions of municipal 
government were carried out by bodies 
of Commissioners elected under the Act 
of 1828 already referred to. The pro- 
visions of this Act had been adopted by no 

Towns Improvement Act, 1854 2 53 

less than sixty-five towns at the date of 
the new Act. In other towns of some 
importance no form of municipal govern- 
ment existed. 

In order to provide for the growing needs 
of existing urban communities already 
organised under some form of municipal 
government and to provide a suitable 
form of government for other aggregations 
of population the Towns Improvement 
(Ireland) Act was passed in the year 1854. 
It marked a considerable advance upon the 
Act of 1828. Twenty-four years after the 
enactment of the Towns Improvement Act 
the following testimony as to the working 
of the Act was paid by a Select Committee 
on Local Government and Taxation of 
Towns (Ireland) namely : ' The provisions 
of the Act of 1854, as to the powers of the 
Commissioners, would require only slight 
amendments to be adequate for every 
purpose of municipal government." 

The Towns Improvement Act provides 
that upon the application of twenty-one 
householders rated to the relief of the poor 
at a minimum of 8 per annum in any 

254 Municipal Government in Ireland 

town having a population at the date of the 
last census of 1,500 or upwards applying 
that the Act or any specified portion thereof 
may be carried into execution in such town 
within the boundaries specified, the Lord 
Lieutenant may order the Mayor or other 
Chief Magistrate of such town (being a 
corporate town) or the Chairman of the 
Municipal Commissioners under the Act of 
1840 wherever the same shall be in force, 
or any two or more Justices of the Peace 
resident within ten miles of such town to 
convene a meeting for the purpose of 
considering the carrying of the Act into 
execution. The Act then prescribes con- 
ditions for ascertaining the ultimate desire 
of the inhabitants, the decision of a majority 
of the qualified voters binding the whole 
In the case of a decision in favour of the 
adoption of the Act, and subject to the 
approval, formerly of the Lord Lieutenant 
and now of the Irish Local Government 
Board, the Act comes into operation in 
such town, and a body of Commissioners is 
elected by the qualified ratepayers for the 
conduct of local affairs. 

Towns Improvement Act, 1854 2 55 

At the time of writing an interesting 
object lesson in the application of the Act 
to an urban area is presented in the case of 
Howth, a number of the residents of which 
have presented the prescribed application. 

The Act prescribes that the number of 
Commissioners for any town shall be not 
less than nine or more than twenty-one, 
the precise number being fixed by the Lord 
Lieutenant (now by the Local Government 
Board). One-third of the Commissioners 
are to go out of office each year, their places 
being filled by election. 

As under the Municipal Corporations 
Act of 1840, so under the Act of 1854 
different qualifications are prescribed for 
electors and for candidates for office. A 
more democratic franchise was created by 
the Towns Improvement Act than that 
created by the Act of 1840, a minimum 
valuation of 4 being substituted for the 
10 valuation prescribed by the latter 

The Commissioners appointed under the 
Act were authorised to levy rates for the 
purposes of the Act, but within strict limits, 

256 Municipal Government in Ireland 

the maximum rate being fixed at one shilling 
and six pence in the pound. 

The Lord Chancellor was empowered to 
select from the Commissioners a proper 
and qualified person to act as a Justice of 
the Peace for the purposes of the Act within 
the boundaries of the town. In practice, 
the Chairman of the Commissioners was 
until the passing of the Local Government 
(Ireland) Act, appointed a Justice of the 
Peace bv the Lord Chancellor. 


That this Act was highly appreciated by 
the inhabitants of Irish towns is evidenced 
by the fact that it was adopted by the 
inhabitants of no less than fifty-four of the 
sixty-five towns which were formerly 
governed by Commissioners elected under 
the Act of 1828. In 1878 there were seventy - 
seven Irish towns in which the Act was in 
force. Its provisions were also either 
wholly or partially adopted by a number of 
the Councils created under the Municipal 
Corporations Act of 1840. 


With the progress of the nineteenth 
century and the great development which 
took place in medical science during that 
century it was found necessary to consider- 
ably enlarge the functions of municipal 
authorities in Ireland. A regular code of 
Acts dealing with the important subject 
of public health was passed in the second 
half of the nineteenth century. Of these 
the most important from the point of view 
of municipal history was the Public Health 
(Ireland) Act of 1874. This Act created 
a new classification of Irish towns and had 
an important effect upon municipal govern- 

For the purposes of sanitary adminis- 
tration the Public Health Act of 1874 divi- 
ded Irish cities and towns into two classes, 
namely, those having a population of 6,000 
and over, and those having a population 
of less than 6,000. The municipal bodies 



258 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of towns in the former class were created 
' Urban Sanitary Authorities " for the 
purposes of the Act. Of the in towns 
which in the year 1878 had some form of 
municipal government, 40 had become 
' Urban Sanitary Authorities " pursuant 
to the provisions of this Act. The remain- 
ing 71 had become merged for sanitary 
purposes in the Poor Law Unions within 
which they were respectively situated, 
the Boards of Guardians of the Unions 
being constituted the " Rural Sanitary 
Authorities." The distinction thus set up 
between the towns of Ireland had an im- 
portant effect upon their subsequent history. 

The statutory restrictions as to taxation 
imposed upon municipal authorities by the 
Acts under which those authorities were 
constituted were removed by the Public 
Health Act of 1874 in regard to the expendi- 
ture coming within the scope of that and 
similar Acts. The powers conferred on 
municipal authorities for raising money 
by way of loan were likewise considerably 

While the powers of certain municipal 

Public Health Act of 1874 259 

authorities were thus greatly enlarged by 
the Public Health Act of 1874, their duties 
were similarly increased. Furthermore, the 
new duties imposed by the Act were man- 
datory ones, municipal authorities being 
rendered liable to certain penalties and 
obligations in respect of matters relating 
to public health. 



In the closing decade of the nineteenth 
century municipal government in Ireland 
was organised under the three general Acts 
already mentioned, namely, The Lighting 
of Towns Act of 1828, The Municipal Cor- 
porations Act of 1840, and The Towns 
Improvement Act of 1854, or under special 
local enactments. The Townships of the 
County Dublin, for example, were consti- 
tuted under special Acts. Under these 
various enactments the conduct of municipal 
affairs was largely vested in Councils or 
Boards of Commissioners. The juris- 
diction of these bodies was not, however, 
exclusive. Certain important functions 
were vested in and were exercised by non- 
municipal authorities. Chief amongst these 
were the Grand Juries and the Boards of 
Guardians which were constituted under 
the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act of 1838. 

Conflict of Jurisdiction in Towns 261 

In the system of local government which 
obtained in Ireland previously to the passing 
of the Local Government (Ireland) Act in 
1898 the chief local authorities were the 
Grand Juries, the Board of Guardians, and 
the Municipal Councils or Boards of Com- 
missioners. The whole area of Ireland was 
included within the sphere of activities of the 
Grand Jury the chief county authority 
and of the Board of Guardians the Union 
authority. Consequently, in the majority of 
the urban areas, three wholly independent 
authorities operated. A considerable amount 
of over-lapping in the areas administered 
existed, with unfortunate results for the 
people affected. The Commissioners who 
were responsible for the planning of the 
Union system under the Poor Relief Act of 
1838 took no account of either the already 
existing county organisation or of the areas 
under municipal government. The boun- 
daries of municipal areas had in many cases 
been fixed before the Union organisation 
was contemplated. Where municipal 
boundaries were subsequently fixed, little 
attention seems to have been paid to the 

262 Municipal Govemment in Ireland 

areas of administration of other co-ordinate 
authorities. The result of the hap-hazard 
system of local government which had 
grown up in Ireland was that in some towns 
there were no less than four authorities 
exercising important functions within the 
municipal area ; in the majority of the 
towns there were three authorities ; in all, 
there were at least two. In cases where 
the municipal boundaries extended beyond 
the limits of a single county, the town was 
subject to the authority of two Grand 
Juries. Where, as in Dublin, the urban 
area included portions of two Unions, two 
Boards of Guardians exercised authority 
within the municipal boundaries. As tax- 
ation was levied by the County, the Union, 
and the Municipal authorities, the evils of 
the system can be easily imagined. 

The Grand Juries in Ireland, unlike the 
similar bodies in England, exercised both 
fiscal and judicial functions in their respec- 
tive counties. The origin of the fiscal 
functions of the Grand Jury dates back to 
the year 1635, in which year an Act of 
Parliament was passed, whereby a limited 

Conflict of Jurisdiction in Towns 263 

authority over certain necessary county 
works was delegated to it. Since that date 
the powers of the Grand Jury over county 
works gradually increased until it became, 
and for many years continued to be, the 
most important taxing authority in the 
Irish local government system. The Grand 
Juries were made responsible for the carrying 
out of various public works in the counties 
of Ireland, such as the construction and 
maintenance of roads and bridges and of 
public buildings, such as court houses and 
gaols. In addition, portion of the cost of 
maintenance of lunatic asylums, county 
infirmaries, and reformatory and industrial 
schools was defrayed by the Grand Juries. 
The necessary expenditure was defrayed 
out of the county cess levied by the Grand 
Juries. For this purpose the Grand Juries 
enjoyed co-ordinate taxing authority within 
the cities and towns of Ireland. The 
members of the Grand Jury were selected 
by the High Sheriff of the County. In this 
connection mention has already been made 
of the arbitrariness exercised by the High 
Sheriffs in the selection of the members 

264 Municipal Government in Ireland 

of these important bodies. In Dublin and 
other important cities and towns, a large 
proportion, and frequently the majority 
of the grand jurors, was empanelled from 
the members of the governing bodies in the 
old, unreformed corporations. The result 
was to vest important powers of taxation 
in these small irresponsible bodies. 

During the course of the nineteenth 
century efforts were made by the more 
important municipal bodies to escape from 
the fiscal control of the Grand Juries. The 
cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick became 
entirely free from the fiscal control of the 
Grand Juries, while a number of other cities 
and towns became partially free. The 
majority of Irish towns, however, continued 
to be subject to the Grand Juries in respect 
to the matters within their purview. 

The Boards of Guardians of the Poor 
Law Unions occupied an even more im- 
portant place in the Irish local government 
system than did the Grand Juries. From 
the period of the inception of the Poor 
Law System, the government had used the 
Boards of Guardians as instruments for 

Conflict of Jurisdiction in Towns 265 

the carrying out of important functions of 
local government. Originally intended for 
the sole purpose of providing relief in their 
necessities for the poor, the newly 
formed Boards had been seized upon 
by the government as suitable bodies 
for the carrying out of numerous 
duties imposed by the legislation of the 
nineteenth century. The Grand Juries had 
suffered from the defect of being transient 
bodies. Called into being at the beginning 
of each Assize period, they were discharged 
from office when that period came to an end. 
The Boards of Guardians, on the other 
hand, were permanent bodies, meeting 
weekly according to statutory regulation. 
In addition, they were to some extent 
representative of the people. The Grand 
Juries, on the contrary, were in the words of 
a well-known writer on Irish local govern- 
ment, Mr. Richard O'Shaughnessy, M.P., 
" the last great stronghold of local govern- 
ment by the minority." 

The Public Health (Ireland) Act of 1874 
gave to the Poor Law System an added 
importance in the system of local govern- 

266 Municipal Government in Ireland 

ment in Ireland. New and important 
powers in connection with Sanitary ad- 
ministration were thereby vested in the 
Guardians of the Poor Law Unions. The 
most significant effect from the point of 
view of municipal history was that all 
towns, the population of which was less 
than 6,000 inhabitants, became merged 
for all the purposes of sanitary adminis- 
tration in that of the Union organisation, 
the Unions being created " Rural Sanitary 
Districts," and their Boards of Guardians 
' Rural Sanitary Authorities." Out of in 
towns possessing some form of municipal 
government, no less than 77 became subject 
in this important respect to the control 
of the Boards of Guardians. 

In connection with the many duties 
imposed upon the Union authorities, there 
was enjoyed a power of taxation throughout 
their respective areas. In the cities and 
towns of Ireland, accordingly, the poor 
rate collectors helped to swell the already 
large army which was engaged in extracting 
contributions from the unwilling and 
harassed rate-payers. 


The Local Government (Ireland) Act 
of 1898 effected a much needed simplifi- 
cation in the Irish local government system. 
The Act provided for the setting up of a 
number of elective councils for the manage- 
ment of County, District, and Municipal 
affairs, a uniform electorate being estab- 
lished throughout Ireland for the election 
of these councils. The Irish Local Govern- 
ment Board was empowered to alter boun- 
daries, including county boundaries, in 
order to provide for greater uniformity 
in the local government system. The 
Grand Juries were deprived of their fiscal 
functions, such functions being transferred 
to the County Councils. The Boards of 
Guardians lost their rating powers, their 
expenditure in future being provided for 
by grants made by the County Councils, 
Borough Councils, and Urban District 
Councils. Their duties were limited, chiefly, 

268 Municipal Government in Ireland 

to the provision of poor relief and medical 
assistance to the poor, their other duties 
being transferred to one or other of the 
Councils constituted by the Act. The 
Boards of Guardians which had hitherto 
contained an ex officio element, comprising 
one half the number of members and drawn 
from the local Justices of the Peace, were 
in future to be comprised solely of elective 
members. Women were made equally eli- 
gible with men for membership of all local 
government councils, save the County 
Councils. The Local Government Board 
was invested with important powers of 
control, particularly in the matter of fin- 
ance, over the various councils set up by 
the Act. To assist the local councils in 
providing funds for the performance of the 
duties imposed upon them by the Act, 
a large annual subvention was made from 
imperial resources to the local bodies 
through the medium of the Local Taxation 
(Ireland) Account. The Act marked a 
considerable advance in the direction of 
democratic government, transferring as it 
did the conduct of local affairs in Ireland 

Local Government Act, 1898 269. 

to popularly elected councils. It has al- 
ready met with a considerable measure of 
success. The system of local government 
established by the Act has already taken 
deep root in the affections of the people. 
The working of that system has attracted 
the admiration of and is a subject of study 
to students of social affairs in many coun- 

Chief amongst the Councils instituted 
by the Local Government Act are the 
County Councils. The Act provided that 
a Council should be established in every 
administrative county and be entrusted 
with the management of the adminis- 
trative and financial business of that 
county. The Act brought into being a 
new class of county, the " Administrative 
County " the Act authorising the Local 
Government Board to alter, where neces- 
sary, the boundaries of the old judicial 
county. The " Administrative County " 
is the county for which a county council 
is elected. Six County Boroughs, namely, 
Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, London- 
derry and Waterford were made adminis- 

270 Municipal Government in Ireland 

trative counties, and their municipal Coun- 
cils, accordingly were invested with all the 
powers and duties of County Councils. 

To the County Council there were trans- 
ferred all the non-judicial business of the 
Grand Jury, the business of the Boards of 
Guardians with respect to making, levying, 
collecting and recovering the poor rate in 
so much of the county as was not com- 
prised in an urban county district, and 
certain powers of the Boards of Guardians 
under specified Acts. In addition to the 
powers thus transferred from other bodies, 
the County Councils were constituted local 
authorities within the meaning of the 
Technical Instruction Acts, 1889 and 1891 ; 
they were made responsible for the pro- 
vision and maintenance of sufficient 
accommodation for the lunatic poor of their 
respective counties ; they were empowered 
to appoint coroners for their respective 
counties, they were required to contribute 
to the maintenance of county infirmaries 
and fever hospitals, the management of 
which was partly vested in them ; and they 
were empowered to make bye-laws in- 

Local Government Act, 1898 271 

relation to their respective counties. In 
addition, the Act provided for the transfer 
to the County Councils, by a Provisional 
Order of the Local Government Board, 
of the business of any Drainage Board or 
other public body, not being a District 
Council or Commissioners of a town or a 
Board of Guardians. For the purpose of 
any of their powers and duties the County 
Councils were empowered to acquire or 
lease land or easements or rights over or 
in land or water. The necessary rating 
powers for providing the income necessary 
to meet their own expenditure, and that 
of the Boards of Guardians and Rural 
District Councils hereinafter mentioned were 
assigned to the County Councils. The 
powers thus transferred to or granted to 
the County Councils gave them ample 
scope for the administration of the local 
county affairs. In a word, " Home Rule " 
was established in every administrative 
county in Ireland. 

The system of County Councils thus set 
up embraced the whole area of Ireland, 
no part being excluded. Six of the hitherto 

272 Municipal Government in Ireland 

existing counties of cities and counties of 
towns were made " County Boroughs " 
by the Act, as above mentioned. Their 
municipal councils were invested with all 
the powers and duties of County Councils. 
The County of the city of Kilkenny and the 
counties of the towns of Carrickfergus, 
Drogheda, and Galway became part of the 
adjoining administrative counties. 

The whole area of Ireland outside of the 
six County Boroughs mentioned was fur- 
ther subdivided into Urban Districts and 
Rural Districts to each of which a Council 
was assigned. The distinction between 
Urban Districts and Rural Districts was 
based upon that set up by the Public 
Health (Ireland) Act of 1874 between 
" Urban Sanitary Districts " and " Rural 
Sanitary Districts " and referred to in an 
earlier part of this work. All the " Urban 
Sanitary Districts " in existence at the 
date of the passing of the Local Government 
Act were constituted " Urban Districts " 
and the ' Urban Sanitary Authorities " 
were constituted " Urban District Councils." 
Similarly the " Rural Sanitary Authorities" 

Local Government Act, 1898 273 

became ' Rural District Councils " and 
their districts " Rural Districts." 

The " Rural Districts " constituted by 
the Act are thus coterminous with the 
Unions, as the Public Health Act of 1874 
constituted the Boards of Guardians the 
" Rural Sanitary Authorities " for their 
respective Unions, at the same time merging 
in the Unions, for all purposes of sanitary 
government, towns with a population of 
less than 6,000 inhabitants. The Local 
Government Act provided that the Rural 
District Councillors should be the Guardians 
for their respective divisions. There is, 
accordingly, no distinct election of Boards 
of Guardians for these districts. To the 
Rural District Councils there were trans- 
ferred by the Act, the business of the old 
baronial presentment sessions so far as 
respects their respective districts, the busi- 
ness of the Guardians under s. 150 of the 
Public Health Act of 1878, in the execu- 
tion of regulations for the prevention of 
epidemic or infectious disease, and the 
business of the " Rural Sanitary Authori- 
ties " in their respective districts. The 

274 Municipal Government in Ireland 

business of the Boards of Guardians which 
was left untouched by the Act is trans- 
acted by the Rural District Councillors 
sitting in their capacity as the Board of 
Guardians. The Rural District Councils 
have no power of levying taxation. The 
money required to meet the expenses of a 
Rural District Council is supplied by the 
County Council upon demand. 


Under the Public Health Act of 1874 the 
Councils or Boards of Commissioners of 
towns having a population of 6,000 in- 
habitants or more were constituted " Urban 
Sanitary Authorities." The Local Govern- 
ment Act of 1898 transformed all the exist- 
ing " Urban Sanitary Authorities " into 
" Urban District Councils " and their dis- 
tricts into " Urban Districts." Under this 
Act, accordingly, the six County Boroughs 
became ' Urban Districts ' and their 
Councils " Urban District Councils." 

The Local Government Act transfers to an 
Urban District Council the business of 

Local Government Act, 1898 275 

any baronial presentment sessions so far 
as respects the district ; and the business 
so far as respects the district of the Grand 
Jury of the county in relation to public 
works the expense of the maintenance of 
which is not wholly or partly leviable off 
the county at large, so far as the business 
transferred is not already the business of 
the district council. The Act further trans- 
fers to an Urban District Council the 
business of the guardians as regards making, 
levying, and collecting the poor rate within 
the district ; the business of the Board of 
Guardians as Burial Board, where the 
Council is not already the Burial Board for 
the district ; the business of the Guardians 
under section 150 of the Public Health 
Act, 1878, in the execution of regulations 
for the prevention of epidemic, endemic, 
or infectious disease. An Urban District 
Council is further empowered by the Act 
to purchase a market or any franchise or 
right to hold a market or fair, and also to 
provide, lay out, and maintain a recreation 
ground or public walk. 

An Urban District Council is, under the 

276 Municipal Government in Ireland 

Act, the sole rating authority within the 
Urban District, and pays to the County 
Council upon demand the amount ap- 
portioned to the district for county at large 
and union and district charges, and any 
urban charges leviable off an urban district. 


Towns which are not " Urban Sanitary 
Districts " form part of the " Rural Dis- 
tricts " adjoining, and as such are rated by 
the County Council. Each such town elects 
representatives on the Rural District Coun- 
cil according to the number of electoral 
divisions contained within the town. The 
Local Government Act, however, favours 
the formation of such towns into " Urban 
Sanitary Districts " and, incidentally, into 
" Urban Districts." Section 42 of the 
Act ordains that any town having a 
population exceeding 1,500, and having 
town commissioners under a general or 
local Act, may be constituted an " Urban 
Sanitary District " by order of the Local 
Government Board under section 7 of 

Local Government Act, 1898 277 

the Public Health Act, 1878. Where no 
such commissioners exist, it is open to 
towns having the necessary population 
to petition for an Order applying the terms 
of the Towns Improvement Act of 1854 
to such town, and thereby have the town 
constituted an Urban District. As already 
mentioned such an application on behalf of 
the residents of the Howth district is 

With regard to the cities and towns of 
Ireland generally, whether CountyBoroughs, 
Urban Districts or Towns under Boards 
of Commissioners, the Local Government 
Act prescribes a uniform electorate for the 
election of Councils or Commissioners. The 
Act prescribes that the Burgesses in the 
six County Boroughs and the electors in 
the other cities and towns shall be the 
" local government electors " of the area 
concerned. The " local government elec- 
tors " of any city or town are those whose 
names are inscribed in the " local govern- 
ment register of electors " or in the " local 

* This application has been since granted and Howth is now 
governed by a Board of Town Commissioners elected under 
the Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act of 1854. 

278 Municipal Government in Ireland 

government supplement," in other words, 
the Parliamentary electors of the area 
concerned together with those persons who 
would but for being peers or women, or 
being registered as Parliamentary electors 
elsewhere, be entitled to be entered in the 
register of Parliamentary electors. 

No special property qualification is re- 
quired in the case of candidates for muni- 
cipal office. The Acts of 1828, 1840 and 
1854 a ^ required a higher property quali- 
fication on the part of candidates for office 
than that required on the part of the 
electors. It is sufficient that the can- 
didate's name be inscribed in the " local 
government register of electors." In the 
case of Urban District Councils and Town 
Commissioners, an alternative qualification, 
merely requiring a previous residence of 
twelve months within the district, is added. 

By an Order of the Lord Lieutenant and 
Privy Council of Ireland made pursuant 
to the Act, women were declared ineligible 
for election or being chosen as County 
Councillors. Membership of Urban and 
Rural District Councils was, however, 

Local Government Act, 1898 279 

thrown open to them by the Local Govern- 
ment Act, a privilege which was eagerly 
availed of. By a subsequent Act of the 
year 1911 women were rendered eligible 
for election or being chosen as County 
Councillors or as members of a Borough 

The combined result of the legislation 
of the nineteenth century, referred to in 
these chapters and of other Acts conferring 
powers upon local bodies in Ireland, is to 
restore to the general body of citizens and 
burgesses in the older cities and towns of 
Ireland that complete control of cheir civic 
destinies which was originally theirs and 
of which they were divested as the result 
of the penal legislation of the Stuart period. 
In the towns of more recent date, and 
notably those which were incorporated by 
King James I. and his immediate successors, 
the principle of self-government which was 
originally denied them has at length been 
put into practice. In all our Irish cities 
and towns wherein any form of municipal 
organisation exists important powers of 
local government are vested in the general 

280 Municipal Government in Ireland 

body of inhabitants. Whether those powers 
are to be used for the weal or woe of the 
people, the people themselves have to de- 
cide. In the new era which is about to 
open for Ireland it is important that the 
keenest interest should be aroused in 
matters of local as well as general ad- 
ministration. If this history of Municipal 
Government in Ireland serves to stimulate 
interest in the subject the writer of it will 
be amply rewarded for his pains. 


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